Give mega projects to Kenyan engineers, grow local industry

Sunday March 24 2019

Itare Dam project

The site of the Itare Dam project in Ndoinet in Kuresoi North, Nakuru. Every time these projects go to foreign firms, Kenyan engineers miss an opportunity to earn a living and garner experience and expertise and take part in their patriotic role of implementing them. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

SHAMMAH KITEME
By SHAMMAH KITEME
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Director of Public Prosecution Noordin Haji recently informed Parliament that he will seek civil engineers, among other professionals, to help in the investigations into the multi-billion-shilling mega dam project scandals. He said the cases have become complex and foreign countries are involved.

Haji’s decision was the right judgment call because dam planning, feasibility study, design, construction, operation and maintenance is a professional specialty within the wide field of engineering. He will get the right technical help.

EVALUATION

But decision makers have sidelined professionals with the expertise as projects were taken over by parties with no technical know-how. Engineers have no say in the projects and their opinion is ignored or overruled or they are kept in the dark.

The big word in the big projects is EPCF, which means Engineer Procure Construct Fund/Finance, also called DBF (Design Build Finance).

For the professionals, there are many modes of project delivery, among them DBB (Design Bid Build), DB (Design Build), EPC (Engineer Procure Construct) and PPP (Public-Private Partnership) in its various forms, one of which could involve the “special purpose vehicle”.

There are standard contract documents, the most popular being FIDIC (International Federation of Consulting Engineers). The main issue in contract delivery is sharing of risks between the employer (owner), contractor, financier and designer of the project.

In Kenya, we have traditionally used DBB, where the employer engages an engineer to carry out a feasibility study and detailed design. The engineer produces drawings, details, specifications and engineer’s estimates and then tenders the job, where after evaluation a contractor is identified and awarded the contract to build the project.

MANY RISKS

The engineer is retained to manage the project to commissioning and supervises defects liability period until the contractor is certified to have performed the work satisfactorily. The design risks are taken up by the engineer, the construction risks largely by the contractor and the financial risks and a bit of legal liability by the owner. Of course, there are financial and political risks, among others, which are taken up by the appropriate party.

The delivery mode is largely determined by who takes what risk or enjoys which benefit.

In DBB, the engineer, contractor and subcontractors are paid from the project budget presented by the owner. In the scenario, now popular in the mega projects, the owner (in this case the government or counties) engages a single entity to carry out the design, procurement, construction and financing of the project. The contractor becomes responsible for everything and the employer provides land and, probably, sureties and political goodwill. The contractor takes so many risks that he factors them in the budget, making it quite high.

FEWER CHECKS

The problem with EPCF is that the determinant of the entity’s capacity to carry out the project is the ability to finance it. Design, quality assurance, timelines, scope and stakeholder interests are, hence, sacrificed at the altar of money. Tragically, independent professional input is sidelined, ignored or abandoned as the big people cut deals in the boardrooms.

In this model, it is easy to bury kickbacks in the budget because there are fewer checks and balances than in DBB. The opaque manner in the way these contracts are done is a very fertile ground for mega corruption scandals. It no wonder then that Haji has found himself on the trail of these mega projects.

Every time these projects go to foreign firms, Kenyan engineers miss an opportunity to earn a living and garner experience and expertise and take part in their patriotic role of implementing them. Hence, local firms are closing shop.

Lastly, it is not asking too much to suggest that these projects revert to DBB and have Kenyan engineers take over.

Mr Kiteme, civil structural engineer, is a council member of the Institution of Engineers of Kenya (IEK). [email protected]

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