Chinese ex-pats employed by the Chinese Communications Construction Company (CCCC) stand around in Mesqel Square.

Non-nationals who apply for a work permit to engage in the construction sector must get a recommendation letter from the Ministry of Urban Development & Construction, according to a new directive issued two weeks ago.

The new directive that made the engagement of foreign citizens in the construction sector more stringent also requires expatriates in the construction industry to have at least a decade of professional experience in the specified job title. The directive listed 55 professions that are open to foreign citizens.

The designing and building of façades, kitchens, signage and acoustics; project management; real estate management; cost engineering; interior designers and construction are among the areas that are open for non-nationals. To get hired in these areas, the expatriate must have a minimum of 10 years and a maximum of 15 years of professional experience.

An employer that is going to hire an ex-pat in these jobs must apply to the Ministry to get a recommendation letter to obtain a work permit from the Ministry of Labour & Social Affairs. The application should be accompanied by a professional competence certificate of the expatriate. The recommendation letter serves for three years and must be renewed every year.

A work permit provided to an expatriate can be extended if the local assistant of the expatriate cannot take over the job from the non-national professional and when the expatriate remains crucial for the work. The directive demanded the employer train local assistants and submit a report about the knowledge transfer from the non-national to local professionals quarterly.

The directive aims to minimise the number of foreigners that engage in the construction industry and reduce unemployment and other illicit activities, according to Abdu Jemal, head of Construction Sector Competitiveness & Enrichment at the Ministry.

"The construction industry has been challenged with many problems, and the Ministry has been receiving serious complaints," said Abdu.

Non-nationals came into the country and have been scrambling for the local market, employment opportunities, are engaged in small businesses, foreign currency smuggling, and other illegal activities, claimed Abdu.

Out of the total number of expatriates in the country, 53pc are engaged in the construction industry. The Construction Ministry issues 50,000 to 60,000 building construction permits and building occupancy permits a year.

During the drafting process, the Ministry dispatched questionnaires to 147 organisations to collect input. The drafting process involved private and public construction companies, 17 professional associations such as the Ethiopian Construction Contractors Association and the Association of Ethiopian Architects.

The directive obliges employers to hire a local assistant who is supposed to replace an expatriate and produce evidence showing that the employer prepared a replacement. The expatriate is required to work only with the employer mentioned in the work permit, be available in the workplace with the given work permit, work only in the job title mentioned in the work permit book, and transfer knowledge to their local assistant.

The directive is indispensable to the construction sector, but the restrictions for unnecessary foreign professionals should have also applied to international organisations in work that can be accomplished by local companies, according to Amha Sime, president of the Ethiopian Construction Contractors Association.

"Because of the absence of a legal or regulatory framework to restrict them, large numbers of non-nationals have been entering the country to engage in jobs that they are not entitled to," he said.

The influx of non-nationals resulted in unemployment in the industry, the foreign currency crunch, crime and construction quality problems, claimed Amha.

The directive has included most of the feedback given on the draft by the the Association of Ethiopian Architects, according to Amanuel Teshome, president of the Association, which recommended only seven professions be open to foreigners.

Amanuel recommends the Ministry carefully follow up the knowledge and technology transfer from the ex-pats to the local professionals.

“Local assistants should come with high professional statuses so that they are capable of catching up to the expatriates,” he said.

To examine the competence and qualifications of applicant expatriates, the Ministry needs to establish examination centres for assessment, certification and training of local professionals, recommends Amanuel.

“The Ministry should make available the list of Ethiopian professionals who have completed the knowledge and skills transfer from expatriates,” he said.

The directive should have transparently included the fines that will be imposed on those who offend the directive, according to Addis Adugna, a construction expert for over two decades.

“The other problem is that the country has limited testing and certification capacity and facilities for examining the competence of foreign professionals,” said Addis.

As the country is heading toward free trade arrangements, this move could be in contradiction with the principles of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and the African Continental Free Trade Area, according to Addis.

“But the directive may serve the country's needs for the moment,” Addis said.

PUBLISHED ON Aug 22,2020 [ VOL 21 , NO 1060]

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