“Present!! We are very present, Your Excellency.
Our dear President, your singling out of the Engineers and to be more specific The Engineering Institution of Zambia (herein after “the EIZ”) is a good thing. Infact it’s a wonderful opportunity you have given to not only the engineering profession but to all professionals abound.
I believe that when the Chief Executive calls you to action, it means that he feels you truly have something to offer and that he is open to your contributions that are presently not forthcoming (or just not visible).
I also believe that your call, Your Excellency is not a case of putting Engineers on the spot to become all defensive but Engineers need to show and demonstrate value as they should. Professionals together with their professional bodies have an irrefutable role (almost “fiduciary duty”) to play in national advisory and development agenda.
Let me hasten to mention here that i know that it is not only the EIZ being called to duty but all such other professional bodies such as the EAZ (that recently paid the President a courtesy call at state house and had the pleasure of taking that prestigious front stairs portrait with the President), the LAZ, the PAZ, the medical /Doctors association, and many others who have the duty to their Government of providing Professional guidance, relevance, oversight and opinions on matters they are qualified to comment on .
Now, getting back to the Engineering profession where I belong and whose association/ institution has being singled out. it is worth noting that the EIZ represents all engineering disciplines / professions that include among others, civil, automotive. computer, chemical, environmental, electrical, mechanical engineers, etc at various levels of qualification ( engineers, technologists, technicians and even crafts personnel). This trivia is shared merely so that people don’t just associate engineering with construction and not just see Engineers and leave out others such as technologists, technicians and even crafts personnel who together as a collective get the full scope of the job done!
So now, what have the Engineers (herein after refers to all engineering qualifications) done or not done in as far as playing an active role in advising and feeding into government decision making processes?
I will leave the EIZ as an institution with an elected mouthpiece to respond in greater detail to the President’s call that was echoed by his Minister at a recent EIZ event. But what I know my President is that the EIZ has given and presented position papers and reports such as the report on Zesco loadshedding (Sept 2015) and many others and continues to exist and influence through various representations. Ofcourse the EIZ can do more in creating visibility, relevance, currency and impactful existence. Let it also be known that We the Engineers by nature are quite reclusive albeit “monk-ish” (not like our “learned friends”!!) as such we need nudging and possibly reassurance that you need us too.
However, let me endeavor to list down the following;
BOARDS – Engineers sit or if not there already should be sitting on various State owned agencies & enterprises’ boards such as IDC, ZESCO, ERB, Indeni, RDA, NRFA, NAC, ZDA, etc, to provide a specific Technical oversight and direction. Being at the decision-making table from the onset helps a lot in getting the right deliverables on the ground.
TASKFORCES – task-specific teams are constituted (you guessed right) to handle, resolve specific issues. Govt has now and again constituted task force teams to look into certain issues and report back to govt with a list of possible scenarios and solutions. Often professionals such as Engineers have been part of these teams when invited to. We however need to localise these taskforce teams (case in point, taskforce team set up for government by donor agencies with minority local professional representation don’t quite have local knowledge and least of all local interest!).
EMERGENCY RESPONSE TEAMS – the rains or lack thereof are almost upon us ( oh this climate change stuff is real and again as an environmental sustainability practitioner am responsible for!). So with the onset of rains comes the almost inevitable (floods, disease outbreaks etc) and for this we need a multidisciplinary team to anticipate such and mitigate as well as redesign to permanently eliminate.
THINKTANKS – I like what the PMRC (Policy Monitoring Research Centre) has been doing especially with regards to the energy policy advisory. I just wonder how involved and participatory we could be as Engineers in providing input into such processes/ good outputs. Without duplicating effort, Engineers ought to be involved in thought leadership and problem solving through these ThinkTanks.
ADVISORY BOARDS – advising Government should be a national service and patriotic imperative (I missed out on going to National Service after Form 5, I always wished I did go). And no, we don’t need to be paid for every advice we give as professionals to government. Remember ” to ask not what government can do for you but what you can do for government”.
Speaking for myself as an Energy Engineer of over 24years Engineering existence, I have taken it upon myself to engage with all the last 4 including the current Zambian Government’s Ministers of Energy to share with them my personal opinion on energy issues as well as offer my hand to help; truth is advice just seems to be the one thing you can not impose on anyone; they either take it or leave it!
As an Energy Engineer, I personally feel responsible for Zambia attaining a 100% electrification rate and becoming a net exporter of power. I also feel responsible for loadshedding and poor economic performance indicators due to insufficient power for productive usage (Economic – ENERGY – sociopolitical nexus). So this remains my guilt as a professional in this sector as such I shall continue to do my part and remain relevant wherever I am allowed and invited to become.
Professional desk at state house similar to the marketeers’ desk (is it even still there?). Granted, some input directed at Government and specifically the President never ever gets to reach him as it sometimes gets lost either in translation or choice by messenger (case in point, I once commented and gave advice on the Presidential Milling initiative but doubt it even reached the President’s desk). A professional desk or depository at state house where the President takes personal interest may just provide the govt and country with some amazing ideas and solutions.
Apolitical Multidisciplinary advisory team to Government should be constituted with a revolving set of team members taken from across all professional and economic sectors and should not only be of the names we think we know or have heard off; strive to find that reclusive deep thinker and be open to divergent views.
Having said all this , now a message to all my fellow Engineers!
We have a patriotic duty and a responsibility to our profession to help our government deliver on it’s 7th NDP and Vision 2030 among others. Our contribution should both be small and grand at every level of society (whether appointed to a Board or merely helping our community during the weekly “keep our community clean” activities). We must not just want to participate where we will be recognized and awarded but also where there is no recognition or reward. We should not be shy to volunteer ourselves to service and raise our hands up for appointment and we should definitely not be our own enemies and inhibitors of fellow engineers!
By Eng.Chisakula Kaputu
The author of this article, Chisakula Kaputu is an Energy Expert and Sustainability Practitioner of over 20 years experience. He may be contacted by email at chisakula.kaputu AT see DOTco.zm