A post advertising the services of recent engineering and architectural graduates at wereda offices. In a scheme that has lost its traction, the Addis Abeba City Administration launched a project to create opportunities for these graduates who are organised and assigned to construction permit offices throughout the city.

Last month Melaku Feleke, a 40-year-old entrepreneur who is in the process of obtaining a building permit for a new house, was at Bole District administrative office in Megenagna, near AMCE.

With plans in hand, he came to the Permit Office of the District to submit his documents for review and approval.

Melaku is presenting a seven-year-old plan already rejected by the Office that needs to be updated. He was also planning to visit one of the government engineers or architects working at the Office to revise his design.

Different engineers and architects provide plan designs and revisions, but recently the city administration has drafted a new directive to involve new university graduates in engineering, architecture, sanitation and electricity in the construction industry.

Recently, the City Construction Bureau drafted a directive that stipulates three categories of opportunity creation - construction input, sub-contracting and consultancy, which includes the design and supervision of projects.

The directive was drafted with a plan of creating opportunities for the 20,000 graduates, according to Amare Mekonnen, communications director.

The Bureau then trained and certified 396 young graduates as consultants and organised them into 99 associations or enterprises. Each association consists of four professionals, and they were assigned to different district and wereda construction permitting offices across the capital.

The trainees were registered and recruited by the Small & Medium Enterprise (SME) after submitting certification of competence and professional licenses obtained from the Ministry of Urban Development & Construction and after receiving tax identification numbers.

The city’s scheme to engage new graduate engineers, architects and designers in the construction business is facing hurdles.

Bole district administration, where Melaku was processing his application, has assigned nine enterprises representing 36 newly certified professionals.

They also took a short orientation on forming new enterprises focusing on internal procedures, the construction directives, regulations and staff communication.

The scope of work and duties of the newly organised enterprises has two levels, depending on the extent of their experience.

Consultants assigned as Special Consultant One have a minimum of two years experience in construction work. They are permitted to handle design and supervision tasks for one-storey buildings with an aggregate project value of five million Birr or less.

Special Consultant Two are professionals who can handle consultancy projects on single-residence housing, minor construction and maintenance projects

Clients waiting to see agency professionals to have their construction plans reviewed and permitted at one of the city's permitting offices.

The consulting rates and progress payments, which include a pre-payment of 20pc and retention payments of 30pc, are outlined in the directive.

But, the plan seems to bear hardly any fruit.

Three young architects and electrical engineers, all in their twenties and beneficiaries of the city’s opportunity creation efforts, claim to have received no project reference in the past month since they completed the registration and training programs.

“We're distributing fliers with our contact information to potential clients, but we haven’t had any business yet,” one of them said. “We are beginning to be frustrated.”

Although a month had passed since their assignment and a long line of service-seekers appear daily at the Office, the graduates have received no project references.

Based on the previous construction reports made at the district office, 10 weredaswere selected to have more construction work and the remaining four weredasto have fewer projects.

Even though the office of Bole district has posted a notice at the entrance with contact information about the graduates, Melaku is hesitant to use them.

He is worried because the government professionals in charge at the Office would be partial to any work prepared by the graduates and submitted for review.

“It is cutting into the self-interest of the government professionals of the bureau and the new assignees,” he said.

Most people are used to dealing with the professional staff in the office to prepare the designs, because they see advantages and have confidence in the outcome if everything is handled by the officials, according to him.

The Bureau has allowed the graduates to post a placard with their contact information at the entrance of the districts.

"And they have also distributed their fliers announcing their services," said Henok Regassa, construction permit & supervision head.

In addition to the opportunity creation scheme, the aim of initiating the program was to combat unethical practices at the district and weredaoffices, where clients were solicited for work by government professionals, according to Amare Mekonnen, director of communications at the Bureau.

“The Bureau has issued ethical directives to the construction staff prohibiting corrupt acts,” said Mekonnen.

Once they are found, they may not receive any project opportunities. Their licenses could also be revoked, and they would not be able to work any other places.

But the directive was far from being implemented as Fortuneobserved in Yeka District where a long queue of clients and other consultants were present.

An attendant at the information desk confirmed to Fortunethat if a client arrives with a concept plan for approval, the design will normally be prepared by one of the government professionals at the construction office.

The initial zoning clearance by the Office is assigned to a professional where issues of the number of floors and land-use are resolved for the proposed lot in compliance with the city’s master plan.

The client then must submit to District a completed design plan for construction permit approval.

That is the point when clients must decide whether to give the job to the district professionals who work for extra income to other established consultants or to the newly formed enterprises.

One of these enterprises run by new graduates rented a small office, four square metres in size, for 4,000 Br a month close to Bole to be near where they are assigned. The office consists of a table, three chairs and a laptop.

"We haven't been hired by anyone,” one of the architects who was in the office waiting for a call, told Fortune. "They [the Office] don't have to know that we solicit work publicly."

The young graduates are not present at all of the weredasof districts. Wereda04 of the Kirkos district, located around Lancha along Sierra Leone Street, has not seen any of the enterprises.

“I have the list of the consultants sent here by the Construction Bureau," said Yishak Shafi, head of the Wereda04 construction permit. "So far, no one has come and reported to our office, and I'm not sure there will be design work here for them.”

Most of the residences in the weredaare communal houses who occasionally need maintenance work, according to Yishak.

In another wereda, an enterprise run by four graduates was assigned a month and a half ago, but no one has shown up at the permit office.

“They have to come and register in the office in order to work here,” said Abebe Shiferaw, head of Wereda 03 construction permit office.

There was design work for an expansion project, but the customer went to another consultant instead, according to him.

The 17 enterprises assigned to Yeka District held a meeting with officials on November 23, 2018, to discuss the problem they face with the district staff.

The discussion focused on how to forestall what they think is unethical conduct perpetrated by the staff, according to a member of an enterprise.

To expand the opportunity, the meeting resulted in distributing the enterprises across the 14weredasof the Yeka District to provide the participants with a better chance of landing projects. Previously, they were all assigned to a single wereda.

Based on the previous construction reports made at the district office, 10 weredaswere selected to have more construction work and the remaining four weredasto have fewer projects.

“This will increase the possibility of our engagement to find work and introduce ourselves to a number of clients,” said one of the members in Yeka.

At the same time, Woldesenbet Yirga, head of the Yeka District construction bureau, said that he has warned the staff to be ethical and stop dealing with clients and to cooperate with the young entrepreneurs.

The head of the construction office at Yeka District stressed that if the enterprises come up with tangible proof of misconduct, they are ready to take serious measures.

Staff who violate the rules could be subject to termination, loss of benefits, demotions and face criminal charges. If found guilty, they could also face five years in prison and loss of their professional licenses.

Woretaw Bezabih, trainer and consultant on entrepreneurship for more than a decade, likes the idea of creating opportunities in the construction sector, as it has a wide range of work available.

“For the consultants, it is very challenging to be engaged in the construction sector,” he said. “But it is an opportunity for them to show their competency and courage to survive in the industry.”

Abebe Dinku (Prof), a civil engineer and a university lecturer with over three decades of experience, sees the situation from a different perspective. While supporting the job opportunity creation, he disagrees with having the new graduates taking design work for which they have little or no experience.

"The program devised by the construction bureau should be revised," he stressed. "Design review and amendments require design and construction experience of at least 10 years."

PUBLISHED ON Jan 26,2019 [ VOL 19 , NO 978]

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