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Commission feedback points to a way out of poverty

ICE news - An ICE scheme aimed at helping engineers in developing countries beat poverty is bearing its first fruit, as Damian Arnold discovers.

SIX MONTHS after their formation, the ICE presidential commission Engineering Without Frontiers (EWF) and ICE-backed body Engineers Against Poverty (EAP) have put together a body of research on procurement systems in developing countries.

The issue of how current procurement is holding back social development is being debated in round table discussions with engineers and clients, and will include Kenya, India, UK, Indonesia and Nigeria. The aim is to see how systems can be adapted to beat poverty.

The results will be presented to public works ministries in the host countries as well as local consultants and contractors and key overseas funders.

These include the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank and the UK's Department for International Development.

'The meetings aim to highlight the things that we as engineers can do and those that might be more difficult because of the need to get political and financial backing, ' said John Hawkins, the ICE's contracts and disputes manager involved in compiling the research.

We discuss what can realistically be achieved in three to five years.' The EWF/EAP initiative focused first on Kenya in a bid to push and observe increased social development within engineering procurement procedures.

The Kenyan round table was held on 10 May and included representatives from its ministry of public works and major consultants and contractors operating in Kenya.

One debate is how closely contract forms should be harmonised across the developing world. Overseas aid bodies are pushing for this as it would save them valuable time when assessing bids. But many argue that contract forms need to be kept flexible in each country to reflect local culture.

The results of the Kenya discussions are already being used to feed into government reform of the country's procurement bill.

Prominent on the wish list gathered was the need for a 'two envelope' bidding system under which a first bid is submitted on technical grounds and only once the bidder has shown capability to do the job is there a second bid on price.

Many contracts already have pre-qualification criteria relating to environmental awareness and labour conditions, but this is not tested in the contract, said Hawkins.

'One of the problems is the results of the pre-qualification assessment are not then included into their technical bid. The results must be taken forward into the project.' Last month, EAP programme offi cer Camilla Herd and Hawkins made a presentation to Kenya's Institute of Engineers Conference to highlight their findings.

The meeting, which was co-sponsored and supported by Gibb Africa, included engineers from Zambia, Nigeria, Tanzania and Uganda.

The meeting discussed many issues touched on by EAP/EWF research. These included the need to get smaller firms, local to projects, involved and how to foster more community involvement in infrastructure projects.

For example, local communities need to get more involved in road building schemes because of the popularity of trading on the side of the road. They also need to be involved in provision of amenities for such traders.

Overall, it was agreed, procurement needs to be more localised with less interference from central government, which can slow up the process.

EAP also had meetings with Kenya's Ministry of Public Works.

The results of the research, to be published this autumn, will also include recommendations to tackle corruption, such as including independent engineers on the appeal boards that assess contracts where corruption is suspected.

In addition, there should be a clearly defi ed marking system to assess bids, that is publicly available.

The initiative has attracted much interest from the United Nations Development Programme, which helps Kenya run its Millennium Development Goals programme, and from the European Community and DFID and the International Labour Organisation which have requested meetings. Ultimately, the research will be enshrined in a toolkit of practical advice for clients, consultants, contractors and overseas development bodies.

Find out more about EWF/EAP's work from Camilla Herd, Engineers Against Poverty programme officer at: c_herd@imeche. org. uk

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