By Eng. Dr. Michael Moses Odongo
The development aspirations of Uganda are such that the needs for engineers remain vastly unmet.
The numbers are still small compared to our East African neighbours under the mutual recognition agreement (MRA) arrangement.
Kenya with a register of 1,400 engineers doubles ours. Consequently, there is every reason for stakeholders to closed ranks and train and licence more engineers and places them in positions of responsibility to render unfettered engineering service to the country.
The Engineers Registration Act (ERA) Cap 271 mandates the Engineers’ Registration Board (ERB) to register and licence engineers to practice in Uganda. The Board, appointed by the Minister for Works and Transport, discharges this mandate in close collaboration with Uganda Institution of Professional Engineers (UIPE), an independent association of engineers recognised in ERA with four seats on the Board.
Registration of engineers remains an internationally recognised approach for controlling and regulating professional practice in a jurisdiction for good conduct of practice. It isolates and checks masqueraders, enforces discipline, streamlines responsibilities, clarifies legal roles and responsibilities and confers professional prestige and esteem. The Board, soon to transform into an engineering council shouldered this responsibility since 1969 when ERA Cap 271 was enacted.
The current register of engineers has 772 engineers of which 494 are in practice.
The 15th Board and its performance to-date
The current Board I chair is the 15th and came into office on February 1, 2014 for a two-year term. It comprises nine members including vice-chairman (Eng. Livingstone Kangere), members (Eng. Andrew Kitaka, Eng. Kisembo Bernard Amooti, Eng. Oryono Eyatu, Eng. Masitula Munyaami, Assoc. Prof. Anthony Kerali, Eng. Dr. Harrison Mutikanga, Eng. Peter Balimunsi) and Registrar, Eng. George Bwanga. In one year, the board has registered 34 engineers, convened one major engineers’ forum on September 19, 2014, reformed licensing and certification procedures, outreached ministries of Defence, Local Government and Energy and streamlined university engineering courses recognition procedures.
The East-African wide Mutual Recognition Agreement (MRA), which was a major initiative of the preceding 14th Board under the leadership of former chairman Prof. Jackson Mwakali and Registrar Eng. James Okiror is now operationalised.
Registered engineers in Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Burundi and Rwanda now enjoy cross border transfer of registration with great ease. Launch of electronic archive and drawing up of a strategic plan are some of the other major activities lined for implementation once funding is available.
Registration of an engineer should ideally occur four years after graduation from a recognised engineering school and attainment of corporate membership of UIPE. The applicant is required to have undergone two years of pupillage training and additional two years of working under direction of a registered engineer.
The application for registration is accompanied by career and technical reports, both prepared according to set guidelines that bring out how one has matured in practice and applied engineering principles and knowledge to address engineering challenges. ERB and UIPE have now established a Joint Assessment Committee (JAC) as a one-stop centre to avoid process duplication at both bodies and shorten turnaround time.
Within the JAC framework, UIPE and ERB have harmonised their application forms (download from www.erb.go.ug) so that the same information is required for seeking corporate membership of UIPE as for registration with the Board. The forms require full identity and address of the applicant, report of the first four years of work initialled by supervisors.
The applicant is proposed and seconded by two registered engineers in each case. The project submitted as part of the registration application should have been implemented post-pupillage, preferably after four years of work and should have demonstrable significant input by the applicant. Some applicants mistakenly report on whole projects, sometimes regurgitating a consultant’s write-up verbatim.
Others submit academic/research thesis or dissertation used elsewhere for academic awards. A technical report is about the applicant. It must evidently demonstrate maturity in engineering practice capped by a significant role in an engineering undertaking.
The role must be in line with attained engineering education. The maturity must be demonstrated through the logical stages of planning, design, implementation and O&M using one or more projects where the applicant made significant input.
The ERA Cap 271 requires foreigners intending to practice engineering in Uganda to register with the Board within four-months of commencing their engagement. Their employers have a responsibility to see to this.
Those from outside the MRA region have to subject themselves to the same normal processes as outlined herein. Holders of registration from Commonwealth countries have a head start. Those engaged in engineering teaching or research work at university level are registered based on their teaching/research experience.
Challenges in the registration process
Over the last one year, it has become apparent to the 15th Board that engineers face challenges in accessing registration.
This is evidenced by the high number of turn-down and give-up rates. Explanations are varied but boil down to inadequate preparation by applicants leading to poor report packaging. A number of applicants have inadequate knowledge of procedures, processes and report-writing. Regrettably the Board’s internal inefficiencies that delay turn-around time of applications also contribute to compound the problem.
In-built within the processes for screening applications are a number of quality checks and filter-points, which to some applicants, simply add to the bureaucracy. Some applications are turned down right at the initial screening stage owing to non-compliance to guidelines. The mandatory independent assessment by senior practicing engineers at times delay and at the end may recommend a re-submission.
Then there are applicants with glossy career and technical reports but who completely make a poor show before the JAC interview panel. This cast doubts on originality and ownership of the report. The lengthened turn-around time greatly taxes applicants’ determination and resilience and is much cause for anxiety and distress that impacts negatively on their motivation to successfully accomplish the process.
Lately, some applicants have come to ERB with degrees in engineering disciplines, some hitherto taught as papers in mainstream courses, from local and foreign universities and colleges of doubtable credentials. The verdict is usually a rejection owing to shallow engineering content of such courses.
The Kenyan Registration Board has gone a step further to blacklist degrees from certain local universities on such an account. Though ERB presently prefers to influence for reforms, blacklisting is not ruled out for the sake of good order of the profession.
The numbers are still small with the consequence that the needs of the country are vastly unmet. The current number imply a per capita of one engineer to 42,000 people vs a desired global average of 1:770.
Initiatives of the 15th Board to improve registration of engineers
The worrisome state of affairs of low registration rate of engineers in Uganda is a cause for concern. ERB in collaboration with UIPE has commenced action on a number of fronts to address the problem. The application process is now simplified at a one-stop centre, JAC and the process is explained and popularised at every gathering of engineers including social evenings, forums and outreaches.
Board membership has been expanded to nine with co-option of two additional UIPE Councillors to closely coordinate joint application processing. Roles of board members, senior practicing engineers and assessors have been expanded to include mentorship of intending applicants.
The new annual licensing helps to keep practicing engineers active and suited to mentorship role amongst others. Various Employers have been reminded as per ERA Cap 271, to engage registered engineers in senior technical positions of responsibility and also to support and prepare young engineers for registration.
The Board has intensified its interface with NCHE and various local universities offering engineering courses to advise on suitable contents, facilities and manpower for preparing graduates for registration. Sectors employing foreign engineers mainly telecommunications, petroleum, roads and water have responsibility to enforce the ERA Cap 271 by ensuring these register with board within four months of assuming duties.
The Board is at the forefront of driving the transformation of ERB into an engineering council with expanded roles and responsibilities and assured resources. The board has interfaced severally with Solicitor General and Ministry of Works for the purpose and it is still remaining to consult the general engineering community on the law. There is also an aggressive programme to individually contact and encourage potential applicants to embark on the process of seeking registration.
The Board together with UIPE funds allowing, also intend to hold a registration clinic for intending applicants. Plans are also advanced at the Board to engage inspectors to advance its outreach and field inspection process. These are modest measures which might yield modest albeit positive results in the short run but lay a solid foundation for the future.
The development aspirations of the country are such that its needs for engineers remain vastly unmet. ERB is at the forefront of addressing this manpower gap as evidenced by measures the current 15th board in collaboration with UIPE has put in place.
Numbers are still small compared with our East African neighbours under the MRA arrangement. Our neighbour Kenya with a register of 1400 engineers doubles ours. Consequently, there is every reason for stakeholders to closed ranks and train and licence more engineers and places them in positions of responsibility to render unfettered engineering service to the country. Mutatis mutandis it starts with me and you NOW.
The writer is the Chairman of Engineers’ Registration Board (ERB)
Why Engineers are still in short supply in Uganda