The Barbados Association of Professional Engineers (BAPE) has been excited and impressed by the focus of our government on reversing the trends that have led to our ongoing downgrades and economic losses. We also admire the general approach taken towards addressing the serious challenges faced by much of our national infrastructure incurred over the past two decades. It is clear that the general intent is to produce positive results for Barbados.
However BAPE continues to question some of the underlying strategic imperatives that are being used to underpin the needed turnaround and we reiterate the need for a complete reevaluation of the way in which complex national technical issues have been handled in Barbados. This issue will therefore continue to be a matter of urgent focus for the Association during 2019.
Albert Einstein, one of the most famous scientists who ever lived, reasoned that it is not possible to solve longstanding problems by using the same thinking which created those problems in the first place. There are a number of fundamental problems in Barbados that have been at the root of our difficulties. While some of these problems have been rooted in economics and in international trade challenges, at least one even more fundamental problem has been the clear weakness of our management and administrative systems in responding to a fast changing world.
We now live in an incredibly intricate and interdependent modern world where advanced technological systems are increasingly being deployed in even the most basic and routine of everyday devices. This presents a deceptively complex dilemma because the consequences of mistakes and even of miscalculations can be devastating to a country.
The recent history of our South Coast Sewerage System (SCSS) easily demonstrates this harsh reality. The overall cost to the country, of the decisions that have been made in this national project since its inception, are unimaginable – not only direct costs and disruptions, but also in terms of lost business, damage to our international reputation, impacts on health costs, and even in lost political capital.
This situation, while arguably extreme in the example of the SCSS, is actually replicated in many other areas of our complex technical operations, among which are:
The state of public transportation and particularly of potholes on our roads
The ZR indiscipline
The Barbados sugar and rum Industries
The solid waste management challenges and issue of garbage collection
The water management and distribution challenges
The situation we face with sick buildings
The challenges faced by those seeking justice in the courts
Using Einstein’s logic, a completely new strategic focus will be required if we are to reverse these performances. BAPE is calling for such a fundamental rethinking of our national strategies
Our New Year wish is for PM Mottley and her government to institute a new commitment to the development of a culture of world class professionalism in all areas of national operations.
By this, we mean that all those who lead or administer national institutions will be held to international standards of professional qualifications, performance, and ethical behaviours. These standards are best established and monitored by the various professional bodies in the different disciplines.
The ongoing ZR quagmire is an excellent example of how such an approach can be used to proactively improve operations. It requires that all ZR operators must meet certain basic qualifications; be members of the National Association; that they all agree and conform to an established code of ethics; and that an Ethics Committee be tasked with the responsibility of investigating and responding to all charges of ethics violations.
The identical arrangement should also exist within the legal system, where the Bar Association should be held accountable for all ethical issues brought against members, and also within the engineers, architects, accounting and all other associations of special expertise.
The most important benefit of such a new approach is that the review, assessment and adjudication of ethical issues will be done by experts in the various fields – rather than by courts and judges who, while expert in the Law, often may not be sufficiently versed in the fundamental technical issues being raised in the various disciplines.
Another benefit is that it provides the avenue through which all sectors of society can be elevated to professional status, based on the ethical and performance standards that they are able to reach and maintain.
To make this work, we would need to make a number of new provisions:
We will need to encourage and support the concept of professional registration in all disciplines. This system could extend from Doctors, Lawyers, Engineers, Nurses, Firemen, Soldiers, Hair-dressers, Undertakers, Gardeners etc. It represents a natural final step in our free education system, that practically everyone evolves into a true, registered professional in their chosen field.
Wherever applicable, qualification for membership of these professional bodies must conform to, or exceed, those of reputable international professional bodies and of similar international / regional organisations.
Professional registration fees should therefore be set at such a rate as to encourage (and even ensure) that all eligible candidates become registered. It makes little sense to provide free education at great expense, only to place large financial barriers in the way of the final goal of professionalisation.
All professional bodies must be established in Law (as is the case with current professional bodies) and must be held responsible for the ethical administration of their profession.
All persons holding positions of responsibility in any national institution (whether government or private sector) should normally be members in good standing in the relevant professional organisation, but in any case, such persons will be subject to the established professional ethical standards for that profession.
The time has long passed when we should limit the concept of ‘professional’ to any particular ‘class’ of citizen. All persons who operate in the public sphere owe the country a responsibility to perform at the highest international level. Such persons are also owed the respect of being treated in a professional and dignified manner – provided they perform and behave accordingly.
Such an approach on a national level would have immediate positive implications for Barbados and for the kind of results that our government seeks to achieve in turning things around:
1 – It ensures that persons in responsible positions are qualified to hold those positions and to perform competently – and that they are subjected to responsible peer scrutiny in doing so.
2 – It ensures that decisions are subject to peer review on an ongoing basis so that many qualified, responsible professional heads can collectively make things work.
3 – It ensures that persons making appointments to critical positions are constrained to identify and select competent appointees who are in a position to appreciate the complexities of modern technologies, and to properly address issues that arise.
4 – This approach will also relieve the court system of multiple technical issues which clog the system awaiting adjudication by judges and juries with little knowledge or understanding of the technical issues.
BAPE strongly encourages government to take a serious look at such a change in national strategy as we seek to turn a difficult situation around for Barbados. We are willing to play any needed role in facilitating what would be a total quality revolution in the country’s strategic imperatives, as Barbados seeks to reverse weak performance results going forward in 2019.
BAPE wishes a prosperous and successful 2019 for all Barbadians everywhere. We wish especially for a year of outstanding engineering in Barbados.