Dr. Hari Bahadur Darlami is the president of the Nepal Engineers Association. An associate professor of Pulchok Engineering College Dharlami was recently elected the president of the six-decade-old umbrella organization of Nepal’s professional engineers. Darlami talked in detail with Bhim Gautam of nepalinfrastructure.com about upcoming plans and programs to be carried out under his leadership. Darlami also delved into various dimensions of Nepal’s infrastructure sector including current pain points as well as the role of the association to boost infrastructure development in the country.
How is the Nepal Engineers Association moving forward under your leadership?
Nepal Engineers Association is an organization established in 2019 BS to protect the rights and interests of engineers and enhance their professional dignity. So far, many bricks have been added for the well-being of engineering professionals. For example, there was no system for engineers to become secretaries at the highest levels of the Nepal government. Our predecessors played a significant role in creating a legal provision that allows engineers to become the secretaries of the government of Nepal. With the constant rise in the number of engineers, various issues regarding this profession have cropped up that need to be carefully settled. For that, the association is trying to solve the problem on a priority basis.
Now, even though the country has ventured into the federal structure, we are also transforming our organization to align with the new setup. We have been making demands such as engineering staff college, sixth-seventh level subjects, the establishment of an engineering council to conduct the engineering license examination, etc. We are also taking the initiative to get those demands fulfilled. For capacity enhancement of engineers, we have been conducting various types of training for capacity building and efficiency enhancement. The association is preparing to collect information from the biometric system of all engineers across the country, in addition to working on building the necessary infrastructure for electronic voting or online voting.
If you look at the trend of budget expenditure, 60 percent of the total development budget is spent with the involvement of engineers. It highlights the crucial role of engineers in the development of the country. However, the government has failed to deliver infrastructure as has been expected.
How would your initiatives support infrastructure development in Nepal?
If you look at the trend of budget expenditure, 60 percent of the total development budget is spent with the involvement of engineers. It highlights the crucial role of engineers in the development of the country. However, the government has failed to deliver infrastructure as has been expected. We are advancing the packages of all the programs in terms of training and personal capacity building aiming to boost infrastructure delivery. We expect that these and similar programs will produce far-reaching positive results.
How capable are Nepali engineers of Nepal to deliver critical infrastructure on their own?
In the beginning, a large number of engineers return to Nepal after studying in Russia. After that, the engineer used to concentrate only on Kathmandu and district headquarters. Recently, the need for engineers has been felt globally for boosting development activities in any country. Now engineers are not only concentrated in the city. Even reaching the difficult and remote places in the country, they are showing impressive performance with their presence even inwards of rural municipalities. In recent years, engineering activities are assisted by digital technology as well as information and communication systems. We need to sharpen our capacity and widen our role in the coming days also.
It has been very difficult to retain qualified engineers who are enjoying tremendous opportunities abroad. How can Nepal harness its skills for economic development?
When skilled personnel goes to foreign countries for greener pastures, it is called ‘brain drain’. The country should take the ‘brain drain’ as the ‘brain gain’ or a ‘brain bank’. For that, the country has to take various policy initiatives. Many of our friends have gone abroad and are working in various fields such as hydropower, information technology, and agriculture, among crucial sectors, and showing their wonderful skills in engineering. I would suggest that the government make policies that can incentivize them to return to their homeland to get involved in various projects. If an investment-friendly environment is created factoring in their potential for contributing to economic development, I am confident that the country would benefit to a great extent. The country could also leap forward economically.
Engineers are also found to have been involved in research also. How can it support the development efforts of the government?
The study, research, and technology transfer are interrelated. Many senior engineers have returned after studying in foreign countries. Such knowledge gain has supported deploying similar knowledge, skills, and technology in Nepal. The marked positive impact of such technology transfer can be visible in many development projects being implemented in the country. Now, a number of Nepali engineers are leading various development projects-both domestic and joint-venture in various assignments of engineering. Similarly, some joint venture projects in the country are also offering the opportunity to Nepali engineers to learn new techniques and skills. We have seen a significant rise in research in various sectors including industry, roads, and energy. And, such research has provided insights for innovations. For example, biogas technology has been developed as per the needs of Nepali society.
But many blame engineers for the slow development of Nepal stating there they lack skills desirable for the country’s development needs. Would you subscribe to this statement?
There are some areas where we need to concentrate on improving efficiency. If the Engineering Council conducts a license examination for those who have passed out, their efficiency will be enhanced. Likewise, versatile training and capacity-building programs are also required for engineers to update their knowledge and skills. We are also moving forward with the concept of a staff college for engineers.
Our senior elders also tried hard and we are also trying to make it happen. However, Nepal’s bureaucracy is not allowing us to move forward. Let’s say a small example, after becoming an officer in the civil sector of the Government of Nepal, that officer is getting a chance to improve his skills by training in a staff college for 6 months. But our engineers are forced to work directly on the site. Even if an engineer does not know about the technical rules of the Public Procurement Act, he/she sometimes gets into trouble. Engineers should have the required skills while working in the field the day after they are appointed. If all these skills are enhanced, the country will get the required manpower to support the economic efforts of the government. Similarly, it is necessary for the government to come up with policies that upheld the idea of reward and punishment to employ the sense of responsibility and accountability among engineers.
It has been felt that there is a need to prepare a quality working environment as quickly as possible and to bring things that help to complete the task within the stipulated time.
Could you please tell me about the fresh efforts from the association and the government to materialize the concept of Engineering Staff College?
We have been lobbying for Engineer Staff College for 15/20 years. The proposed staff college was supposed to guide the newly passed out engineers before they are assigned on duty. That is why its need has been even more pressing in the current environment. Our seniors have been raising this issue to ensure continued activities of capacity enhancement for professional engineers. We have submitted the necessary documents to the Ministry of Physical Infrastructure and Transport which is also the line ministry to move forward with the proposal for necessary endorsement. However, the process has been delayed. We have been requesting the Nepal government to move forward with the process to get the relevant bill endorsed by the parliament.
What are the major problems facing Nepali engineers and what steps are taken by the association to address them?
We have identified that engineers working with the government and the private sector have dissimilar problems. In government entities, engineers are fully occupied with workloads. Such overload in work will further intensify just before the completion of the fiscal year. Private sector engineers are also facing similar problems if they are associated with government projects. However, those involved in private companies raise issues of remuneration and other benefits. Sometimes, engineers have been facing an investigation from the Commission for Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA)- an anti-graft constitutional body- adding to their woe. The practice of bringing engineers under investigation over even minor issues must end. Such intimidations have discouraged engineers from carrying out even genuine activities fearing legal actions. However, actions must be taken if engineers are found guilty after due investigation process.
Any policy prescription from you as a leader of engineers to resolve such issues?
Engineers should be the head of technical departments of the Nepal government to pave the way for the smooth implementation of budgetary programs. Post of engineers should not be vacant in government agencies that are directly related to project implementation. The government should create an environment where the implementation of projects would not meet with obstacles. Seamless implementation of projects not only keeps engineers engaged but also boosts economic activities across the country. The government has been facing low capital expenditure for the last several years with a key reason being the lack of engineers in major projects and execution as well as oversight agencies. Engineers are only those who understand the technicalities of projects and the ways to resolve them.
Engineers should be the head of technical departments of the Nepal government to pave the way for the smooth implementation of budgetary programs. Post of engineers should not be vacant in government agencies that are directly related to project implementation. The government should create an environment where the implementation of projects would not meet with obstacles. Seamless implementation of projects not only keeps engineers engaged but also boosts economic activities across the country.
It has long been blamed by the Nepal Engineers Association; it never raises issues regarding the distortions in this field. What do you want to say?
Various engineers have been working in Nepal on how to resolve the problems in this area. Some of them are working in the civil sector while some are in universities. Being in different places, there is an obligation to fulfill different kinds of responsibilities. However, we have been discussing such problems on various occasions in different forums. We are committed to minimizing such problems with the support of our member engineers themselves.
In recent times, the Millenium Challenge Corporation (MCC) project and the Nijgadh International Airport project have been much politicized but none from the engineering fraternity come up with concrete ideas about these crucial projects? Why are engineers so silent on such national issues?
MCC is a purely technical matter. It is also related to foreign investment. While the country was going against the side of MCC, the Engineers Association did not come down in favor of MCC, but it was in favor of the construction of various types of infrastructure in terms of MCC. Regarding another Nijgadh, there are still some technical issues. Which is not only related to engineers. It is connected with forests and society. This Nijgadh Airport is an important airport for Nepal, technically speaking. In today’s world, many people are traveling by air. For that, international level routes are also essential. It is very necessary because it is at a short geographical distance from Kathmandu. There is a need to develop Nijgadh Airport as the only international route ‘hub’ in Nepal. Even in Nijgadh where there is an open space, there is no situation where the government can give compensation.
Politically, there is a lot of polarisation regarding the issue of large infrastructure development. What should be done to stop it?
We should not use our political interests in development projects that are for overall national development. It is unfortunate that even vital infrastructure projects are also marred by politicization. Sometimes debates on the project emerged due to a lack of proper consultation from key stakeholders. There must be a lot of consultations with relevant stakeholders before moving forward with the projects, especially from the very phase of conceptualization. Such engagements offer opportunities for stakeholders to get exact information from the concerned authority and vent their concerns regarding the projects. Such forums also help to shape public perceptions on time about the project before rumors take space. In our case, it would be much easier to work if we could discuss with all the relevant agencies and other stakeholders.
Issues of the safety of engineers in the workplace have been getting prominence in public discussion. How can strengthen the safety of field-based engineers to minimize accidents at the sites?
Security issues come along with technology. When we work at any project site, we must follow safety standards and norms. Unless we follow safety as a priority, serious accidents will continue to take place. For this, it is time for the government to arrange a monitoring mechanism as a matter of policy. While building a house, only the safety of the citizens is followed. Electrical safety standards are not observed. Therefore, the safety of workers including engineers should be accorded high importance to minimize workplace accidents. should be given great importance and proceed. Government should conduct regular safety audits at project sites and projects should also sincerely take safety measures to save lives and property from serious accidents.