Regulate engineering
Guyana Chronicle
March 27, 2002

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It was not any surprise that Dr Harold Davis and his team of investigators found that poor engineering was responsible for the conservancy dam failure. Clearly, in every aspect of project management (design, construction, and quality control) this is nothing more than a shame on engineering in Guyana. I am quite sure that superintendents, many of whom did not have a day in high school, at the old Ministry of Hydraulics could have done a better job than the Irrigation Board’s engineers. They would have known that the core of a dam has to be built with some impervious material like clay to prevent seepage failure...a fundamental.

To remove the incompetence that led to so much waste of money ($150m) and the sufferings to the people of Cane Grove, many areas of project execution have to be critically examined to produce greater efficiency in the future, and to upgrade the level of engineering as evidenced from the conservancy failure. There are a few Engineers who are quite competent to advise on the required changes in those areas. In this letter, I am briefly suggesting a more fundamental change that seeks control through regulation to practice engineering.

I see this dam failure as a warning to regulate the professional engineers in Guyana. Regulation has to start at the point of a strict compliance with approved academic and experience requirements for registration of all engineers. Registration ought to be mandatory before anyone is permitted to practice in Guyana. If the BSc at UG will be used as the bench mark for engineers in training, the curriculum has to be seriously upgraded. Engineers should be permitted to work only in the areas of their certification. We cannot have an irrigation engineer who most likely did a single course in geotechnical engineering certified to do dam or embankment engineering.

The Guyana Association of Professional Engineers (GAPE) should issue seals to certified engineers. All designs should be required to be stamped, signed and dated, including all changes. The responsibility for the design should be clearly defined through the stamping process. No contractor should be required under penalty of imprisonment to build only from stamped designs. Minor works where the risk of life and property is small can be exempted.

The public would no doubt be protected in the process, as engineers would then become liable, even personally for their indiscretions, neglect, incompetence and mistakes.

GAPE should have the authority to strip any engineer of their right to practice if professional incompetence or misconduct is proven.

With this process, engineers would be more careful and diligent in their practice, especially as it pertains outside their areas of competence.

The Government can also use the process to screen foreign engineers to ascertain they are qualified in the relevant project skills.

The process I have outlined works well in Canada and the US. Guyana has a small pool of engineers, and implementation of a system of regulation should be quite easy.