ZIMBABWE Institution of Engineers (ZIE) wants a higher participation of local engineers in infrastructure national projects as they are not happy with the current levels.
By Tatira Zwinoira
As such, ZIE are hosting an inaugural conference sometime next month in Victoria Falls meant at having dialogue with policymakers on the advantages of having local participation of local engineers.
To find more about the matter, NewsDay business reporter, Tatira Zwinoira (ND) discusses these issues with ZIE chief executive officer, Sanzan Diarra (SD) .
ND: It is our understanding that ZIE has been complaining that local engineers are being left out of critical infrastructural projects. So, my question to you is that considering that there are more experienced engineers who are being brought into these infrastructural projects, what do you think local engineers can offer?
SD: When big projects come into this country, its initiated, more often than not, with money that will be coming from outside and you will find that usually the investors will put their own conditions. They will bring the money, say they will bring their own engineers and qualified technicians and those are some of the conditions. But, our government has been at pains to try and rectify that to get qualified Zimbabweans on such projects.
You will find on some main projects, I will give an example, like the Plumtree-Mutare road. The money came from outside, it was borrowed money and when the project came, it was given to Group 5 and I am not privy to the conditions that Group 5 got to win the tender but Group 5 obviously brought in their own qualified
specialists. So, when they did that, our government had to plead with them to get qualified Zimbabwean engineers and technicians, thankfully that happened. The numbers were not to our satisfaction, neither were they to the satisfaction of our government, but at least we got a couple of engineering professionals, who got to work on the project.
But, more often than not, you get situations where there are hardly any Zimbabweans working on these projects and this is something we want to rectify. I think it is quite legitimate to try and rectify that.
ND: But, if you have an investor coming here to do a project and has a choice between a qualified Zimbabwean engineers and maybe an engineer who went to a more established university outside the country, it is only natural that he is going to pick that person rather than a local. So, what do local engineers offer in comparison to what the foreign engineers are offering?
SD: I will concede, but, at the same time, we have close to 2 000 engineering professionals registered. When we say registered, these are engineers that can tackle any job of any nature anywhere in the world.
I will concede that our educational schools are not of the same standards which I found them in 1988; things have deteriorated. The quality of delivery and university lecturers is not the same as before, but we do have relatively young and capable engineers outside the country and they are yearning to come back home. Create the conditions and bring them. When an investor comes with his money, I think our government is capable of sitting down and negotiating the participation of Zimbabweans. I have no doubt that it is feasible.
ND: You said before that one of the benefits of having local engineers is having more scrutiny of these deals, which the government is signing with investors. Only recently we found out that the deal with Geiger International was shelved because government found out that deal was questionable.
ND: But, you said that having a local engineer can have more scrutiny. Can you explain that?
SD: When you have a project of such magnitude, putting your own engineer on such projects, I don’t think you can get better served them by your own children. These are Zimbabweans born and raised here. Some have their own children here or even grandchildren because Zimbabwe is their home, so do you see a Zimbabwean sabotaging his own country?
No amount of greed will allow that. Of course, there are a few rotten apples, which is common all over the world, but at least you are guaranteed that the bulk of your engineers will be loyal to the country, no doubt about that, one.
And two, once a project is designed and implemented, the maintenance of it is better done by those who have designed and contracted it. If there are Zimbabweans there, you do not need to pay money to bring them into the country to do that for you, they are here, at home.
Most importantly, if you borrow money to do such a project, this project will be done by Zimbabweans and no money will be taken out. The money will remain here, so there are so many benefits of having your local engineering professionals employed to do these jobs, they are just immeasurable.
Yes, get engineers to come into the country, but it is always good to have an exchange of ideas to get the final product. Let the engineers come in, but let the majority be Zimbabweans.
ND: To what extent would you say there is corruption among local engineers?
SD: Well it is a touchy subject. I do not want to do a presentation on corruption. I was told that I could not and I Ieft it there, so I will rather not comment on that. But, corruption in this country is like a public secret, we all know about it. It is almost at all levels, it is not among engineers only, it is all over isn’t? So I rather not comment on that one if you will allow me.
ND: Okay. But, there are also complaints that, maybe, when local engineers are hired, they inflate prices, do you think that is quite rampant among engineers?
SD: I would not say it is rampant, but it is very much extant but it is not just engineers you get architects you get and all kinds of professionals…
I do not think it is only common to engineers, I believe that it is something that needs to be combatted especially by our government, since this is happening at all levels. There are bad apples at all levels.
ND: You said that the quality for engineers had gone down, so what do you think can be done to bolster our engineering educational system so that we can take it back to the levels which it once was, where it was well regarded worldwide?
SD: First of all, I would say let’s attend to the number of people who go and learn engineering. Of late, we have seen a proliferation of those who go to learn engineering at our schools.
Last year, at this time, we had roughly four engineering schools and if you remember, at the beginning of our conversation, I told you there are more than 10 all of a sudden. There is a policy, I don’t know if it is compulsory or something, that almost all universities must offer engineering programmes. This is something we, as engineers, have discussed, and there is no need to have great numbers when we cannot ensure quality.
Why I am saying that ,go to a premier university, the University of Zimbabwe, where I came to teach here some 20 years ago. At the time, when I came, the level of our laboratories were first world class but today go there and see the nature of the laboratory and see the state of the workshops where student go for training. At the same time, with the low level of lab equipment you get staff issues, where you get a department of engineering that is heavily understaffed.
There was a time when we were having a Bachelor of Science graduate teaching a Bachelor of Science student, that is not normal. You cannot do that. But, now at least it is being corrected. To teach a Bachelor of Science student, there has to be at least a masters degree, if not a PhD. In fact, some universities have made it compulsory that one needs to be in possession of a PhD in order to be a lecturer.
ND: Do you think it is an issue of funding?
SD: It is all around that.
ND: How much funding do you think will be needed for improving our schools?
SD: Well, it is not a set thing. We need to carry out serious research, but one thing that I know the plethora of students in engineering schools is not something that augurs well for the good training. I am told for instance at the National University of Science and Technology of Zimbabwe (Nust), a single department has over 150 student a class, a single department! I taught at Nust for 10 years after UZ and I was the head of civil, water engineering in that university for 10 years.
During my time, we had five departments for engineering in my faculty. The total number of students in one faculty had never reached 150. Now I am told there are more than 150 in one department and this a place where there are no laboratories to talk about so how do conceive that, it is problem.
ND: Considering that infrastructure development has deteriorated from a point when it used to be second to South Africa many years ago on the continent…like, now you have situation where Ethiopia might overtake Zimbabwe in the next few years in infrastructure… how much infrastructure development do you think is needed in the country?
SD: One needs to carry out serious research in terms of an infrastructure scorecard. The infrastructure scorecard is carried out by classifying the infrastructure into categories, your transport, hospitals, schools, dams, water systems, energy, and ICT so you need to carry those needs and assess the existing infrastructure.
Zimbabwe has inherited solid infrastructure from the colonial people, but now we all see under the sun most of it has deteriorated to a great extent.