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View from Kenya: Absurdity of court ruling on the registration of engineers By Nashon Okowa

In July, hundreds of students who had graduated with engineering degrees from three universities received great reprieve when the Engineering Registration Board (EBK) was directed by the Supreme Court to register them.

The board had declined to register engineering graduates from Masinde Muliro, Egerton and Moi universities since their curriculum was not accredited.

I desire not to take away the victory these students received, save to point out the collision this judgment set between universities and professional bodies.

In their ruling, the majority of the Bench noted: “A university cannot be granted a charter unless the commission charged with higher education is satisfied that it has the requisite capacity to offer the courses. It was therefore unfair for the board (EBK) to purport to supervise the courses offered when they had no such powers.”

They added: “The board’s mandate is to regulate the conduct of registered engineers but no powers to oversight the engineering courses offered by universities.”

I disagree with this. The blames of any rogue or incompetent professional, including engineers, project managers, architects and lawyers are constantly pointed towards the professional regulatory boards.

blames of any rogue or incompetent professional, including engineers, project managers, architects and lawyers are constantly pointed towards the professional regulatory boards.

When a building collapses in Kenya, we are always first drawn to who the consultants are and point fingers at the various boards of registration for action. In no instance has the public ever demanded to know which university a doctor accused of negligence studied. How then does the court in its ruling require professional boards of regulation to regulate and take blame for conduct of people they had absolutely no say on how they were trained, especially in this political era where university charters are issued as gifts to regions and communities?

There is no obligatory requirement, at present, for the Commission of University Education (CUE) to consult any professional body before issuing accreditation for university courses.

The strictness of professional registration boards has been the deterrent to universities starting courses purely for commercial purposes. The removal of this encumbrance by the court will water down the very effort to eliminate quacks in our country. University courses must be harmonised across the board and the professional bodies that understand the industry requirement cannot be hived out of this.

Take for example construction management training in Kenya that is now offered by five universities. The curriculum for training is as varied as day and night, with each university teaching what it wants.

Evidently, there is no harmonisation or even verification done by the CUE before commencement of these courses. If it were even remotely so, then at least two universities would have a similar curriculum.

How then do we expect a professional body to unconditionally register all these students without question? Yet some universities may actually be deluded to think they are training construction managers – when they are not. This will be retrogressive to our country’s professional growth. The professional registration boards cannot be delinked from the training of universities. With a world that is constantly in progress, the boards’ input to help universities constantly improve their curriculum is imperative.

The registration boards are the link between training institutions and the market industry, we must encourage even more engagement between universities and the boards. We must make it mandatory that the CUE consults various professional registration boards before commencement of university courses to avoid future confrontations. Until then, this recent ruling awkwardly puts professional registration boards in a dilemma. It needs to be challenged for the benefit of the country. If not, the buck of professional negligence will not stop anywhere.

The writer is a project manager and Chairman of Association of Construction Manager of Kenya (ACMK)

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