Omar Sweeney | Enforcement of quality control critical to road infrastructure
Daniel Thwaites’ article, ‘The cyaapit is unravelling already?’, published on Sunday, October 18, raised the question: “But where is the Professional Engineers Registration Board on all this? That is the body that legislation empowers to protect us with legal teeth. There are bodies out there upon whom the public must rely. They need to be courageous and help us to understand why we spend so much on roadworks that collapse if there’s more than a drizzle.”
The Professional Engineers Registration Board (PERB) is the agency under the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation with responsibility under the Professional Engineers Registration Act (PERA) of 1987, for the regulation of the practice of engineering in Jamaica, including the registration of engineers.
In Jamaica’ there are now more than 800 registered engineers and 100 organisations on the register. Under the PERA, if the board finds “any person or organisation registered under this act – to be guilty of dishonesty, negligence or incompetence”, it has an array of punishments that can be meted out. The PERB carries out the following functions:
i. registers engineers;
ii. issues certificates of authorisation to organisations;
iii. determines the categories of engineering work in which applicants are to be registered;
iv. regulates the practice of engineering in Jamaica;
v. promotes and ensures the maintenance of acceptable standards of professional conduct by persons registered as engineers under the PERA; and
vi. prescribes the procedure to be followed in instituting disciplinary proceedings against engineers in relation to professional conduct.
To this end, during the period 2019-2020 the board introduced or continued to work towards a number of initiatives:
• A list of companies which may have been operating in breach of the PERA was reviewed. Of this list, three companies have now applied for authorisation.
• Several policies and procedures were approved, including procedures for handling disciplinary complaints, an investment policy and an annual publication policy.
• The board has developed a set of continuing education requirements as an amendment to PERA.
• The website will be tailored to include our proposed Continuing Education Requirements for Professional Engineers. The authority, when granted under this new initiative, will give the board powers to enforce continuing professional development for professional engineers which if not fulfilled will be punishable.
• The board continued to work towards international accreditation of our registered engineers.
Engineering infrastructure, like roads, is the product of an integrated network of design professionals, public agencies, inspectors, contractors and workers. Beyond that, proper use and maintenance of the infrastructure is required. Too often it is the case that we see overloaded trucks on the roads. We have to cross-reference that to the fact that our resources do not always allow the ability to develop infrastructure that will withstand every scenario.
The end result is that we must operate a system that addresses our vulnerabilities and is resilient. That system, if I were to use a common denominator, would be enforcement. We must enforce that designers carry out proper designs, we must enforce that contractors carry out proper work and give value for money, and we must enforce that road infrastructure, in general, is designed, built, operated and maintained within the limits of that which it was designed for.
It is natural, when failure or disaster occurs, to point fingers or lay blame at the feet of any one particular entity or body. But the truth is that most failures of this nature in the built environment come as a result of a series of breakdowns or ‘domino effect’. The Jamaica Institution of Engineers (JIE), referenced in Mr Thwaites’ article, a civil society advocacy group of engineers, speaks on these matters throughout the year. We consider and crave the public’s attention to information disseminated from the JIE and other engineers knowledgeable on the subject. We also encourage the public and private sectors to be vigilant when operating in the construction industry by demanding the required certification and licence of the builders and designers.
Through the regulation of the build environment, PERB plays an important role in the GOJ’s medium-term strategic priorities of government effectiveness, rule of law and timely justice towards helping to meet the GOJ’s national outcome of effective governance under Vision 2030 Jamaica, and the Sustainable Development Goals of sustainable cities and communities.
As we continue to advance as a society, we will have to pay attention to the voices trained in the expertise of designing and maintaining our built environment.
Omar Sweeney is chairman for the Professional Engineers Registration Board. He is also the managing director of Jamaica Social Investment Fund.