An Engineer’s Latest Rip Off
Dania Abu Fouda
Amman, Aug 2015: Engineering quotas: these are the upper limit of the area an engineer, engineering office or engineering company can work on during one year, according to instructions issued by the commission offices of The Jordan Engineering Association regulating engineering offices and companies No. 2 of 1985 and its amendments. The quota for an engineer is calculated on the basis of his/her qualifications and experience, in accordance with instructions issued by the Offices and Engineering companies Authority, after the approval of the association board. The quote is aimed at regulating the Association of engineering practice and opening up the field for the largest possible number of engineers to work.
A year passed since Dirar (alias name) graduated from the University of Balqa majoring in road and bridge engineering. He spent the year unemployed, looking for work or even training at the “Engineers Association”.
In the climate of unemployment and lack of money, Dirar had an opportunity through a friend who told him about an office in Wasfi al-Tall Street, Amman, that happens to be looking for a resident engineer to work on a project.
Dirar immediately arranged to meet with the owner of the office in August 2014. The owner offered to rent from him his quota of 4500 square meters per year, in return for JD 200 per month. The owner sought this arrangement because he needed additional quotas to work on housing developments near the airport road.
“At first I hesitated before agreeing, because I wanted a job that would give me experience,” Dirar said. However, the owner told him to go to the project when concrete is poured.
Dirar and the owner signed a fake contract at the “Engineer’s Association” for one year at a salary of JD 400 per month (the minimum wage for an engineer).
But a month and a half afterwards, the owner did not ask his new employee to visit the project site, despite the start of concrete works there.
Two months later, Dirar had a chance to have a real job in Saudi Arabia. He notified the owner of the office of the need to terminate the contract and pay his financial dues, but the owner refused, asking Dirar to pay the fees for retaining a new engineer in his place so that the office can settle his quota with the “Engineers Association”.
After tough negotiations, Dirar was able to resign from his fake job and terminate the contract. The resignation was post-dated at two months later.
This was the only option for Dirar, to be able to secure a clearance letter from the association to travel and work abroad, according to the terms of the new company. “I was defrauded. My quotas were exploited without anything in return. I was registered as an engineer in a project I never saw,” according to Dirar.
Engineering firms exploit hundreds of fresh graduates like Dirar, signing fake contracts with them to benefit from their quotas.
There is a direct correlation between the number of engineers registered with a firm and the area of projects these firms can function on.
The Jordanian Association of Engineers
The Jordanian Association of Engineers in Jordan is an independent entity. Its main function is to regulate and develop its practice, according to its Law 15 of 1972 and its amendments.
The association was founded in 1958 to replace the Jordanian Engineers Association that had existed since 1948. It included in the first year 97 engineers, compared to 120,000 engineer in 2015.
Union organs are formed by the General Administration , the central body (intermediate authority ), which serves as the union ‘s parliament membership includes 324 engineers. And the Council of the union and includes 9 engineers , including the captain and his deputy , General Authority for the people of engineering . Councils engineering people , public bodies of the branches in the provinces, and provincial councils branches , the General Authority for offices and engineering firms , Council offices, staff , committees engineering assemblies ( 10) committees , committees arbitrariness outside Jordan (20) of the Commission
The union consists of 20 branches , and managed , consisting of nine members of the Bar Council , the central body comprising 324 engineers.
Many offices and firms circumvent the engineering quotas issued by the Jordan Engineers Association, based on bylaw No. 2 of 1985 and its amendments, by signing fake contracts with engineers in return for half of the minimum wage (JOD 400/$560). This distorts these engineer’s rights and affects the quality of the buildings.
The fake contracts allow engineering firms to increase the maximum area they are allowed to develop including: supervision, consultation, design, or execution, without having engineers working on the site, undermining the quality of building. This happens amid a laxity in the oversight of “Engineers Association”, the authority in charge of overseeing the work of engineering firms.
Amid a conflict in the numbers regarding the size of the problem, former chairman of the Association Abdullah Obeidat, who left his post in mid-May 2015, stated that the former council of the Association (2012-2015) dealt with more than 1,000 cases of engineers registered in a fake manner with engineering firms out of 8,000 engineers working for 1,200 firms. Their quotas were ultimately revoked.
The current chairman of the Engineers Association, Majed al-Tabbaa stated that the former council of the Association, in which he was also member in, dealt with nearly 250 engineers falsely registered and their quotas were revoked.
Dirar was not the only one who was forced by circumstances to rent his quotas. We documented the cases of four recently graduated engineers who signed fake contracts with firms without undertaking engineering functions. This journalist disguised as a newly graduated engineer, looking for a fake contract with a firm, offering her quotas or part of them in return for payment.
Over the course of a month, she visited 4 firms in the capital Amman chosen at random. They agreed to sign such contracts in return for JD one hundred to two hundred. The author also contacted 7 firms on the phone in Amman, 6 of which agreed to sign such contracts in return for the same amount of payment.
The functions of the Resident Engineer: The Resident Engineer works on the project site on a full time basis, supervising construction of the structure by civil, mechanical, and electrical contractors as follows, according to Engineering Supervision instructions from the Engineers Association. Ensuring the soil is suitable for the proposed design of the foundations in accordance to soil testing reports and calling for tests to inspect where appropriate.
Ensuring the integrity of the planned works on the ground
Ensuring execution adheres to the schemes and specifications.
Ensuring the safety of concrete works in columns, walls and ceilings.
Supervising rebar and concrete works.
Documentation of project works, engineer visits, instructions, and meetings.
Conversation with an engineering firm in Jabal al-Hussein in Amman. This journalist visited a well-known firm in the area:
I am Dania, a freshly graduated civil engineer. I want to register my quota as a residential engineer
What work experience do you have?
I am recently graduated
Okay, no problem. Bring your papers for me to see
How much do you pay?
Since you will not come for the working hours, your salary would be slightly less than half of the Association’s salary
JD two hundred.
This journalist was enable to not carry on in her disguise fearing she would get exposed if asked further questions given she does not possess an engineering degree.
In April, this reporter saw eighteen ads online on major classified websites in which engineers were trying to sell their quotas or lease them. These ads all follow the same format: “Engineering quota for sale, call: […]”.
The ads are not only posted by fresh graduates. One ad had an electrical engineer with twelve years of experience trying to sell his quota.
The author contracted 6 of the ads. They all confirmed that selling their quotas was legal and ethical, claiming they had personal reasons for no longer participating in the field. “I want to take care of young kids” explained Alaa, as a reason why she was renting her quotas.
Projects without engineers
This reporter visited ten projects in various parts in Amman during working hours. She found out that half of the resident engineers named in the data placards of those projects were not present despite the fact that structural works were ongoing.
Article 11 of the Building Law No. 7 of 1993.
B) Construction works may only proceed on the basis of engineering schemes that meet the technical requirements in the building codes in force issued by entities authorised to produce designs, or engineering firms registered with the Order of Engineered and certified by it.
Article 4 of the instructions of implementation of building codes
D) The authority supervising after being notified in writing by the project owner of the date of execution shall appoint a resident engineer on the site for projects that have an area greater than 500 sq. meter. Otherwise, the execution is supervised by the supervising committee and its technical committees.
On the Website of the Engineer’s Association, it states that the inspection crews formed by the association and the municipality of Amman caught three thousand and five hundred violations in 2200 projects between the start of 2013 until May 2015. These violations included the absence of a resident engineer on the site, having contractors not registered in the contract, the non-existence engineering schemes at the site , in addition to the lack of laboratory tests for the project according the the Engineer’s Association.
We searched Qistas engine for court cases in Jordan, and found that seven cases were being examined by courts between 2013 and May 2015 brought against engineering firms, for having no resident engineer on the projects despite ongoing structural works.
All the cases also involve failure to conduct tests on concrete samples due to the absence of the resident engineer, in violation of Article 11 of the National Building Law No. 7 of 1993.
Article 13 of the same law punishes violators with a fine no less than JOD hundred and no more than JOD three thousand for violating any code, depending on its gravity.
An engineering firm in Amman was constructing a ten-storey building in Abdoun, designed by a structural engineer. Somewhere through construction, a collapse in the building occurred according to the ruling of the High Court of Justice in 2004.
The owner of the building lodged a complaint with the “Engineers Association” towards the senior engineer. The association, after due diligence, ruled that the cause of the collapse originated with the engineer giving instructions to link slabs to the retaining wall without ascertaining whether the building can handle lateral loads. He also agreed to receive steel meshing without the presence of a resident engineer registered according to regulations, in violation of Article 64/B of the bylaws of the Order of Engineers, according to the text of the ruling of the court.
Engineers in numbers:
– 120,000 engineers registered with the Order of Engineers
– 1245 engineering firms
– 77.6% of firms registered in Amman
– 7916 engineers working in engineering firms.
– 36% of engineers work in supervision as resident engineers
– 85.1% are in Amman
– 38 million sq. meter is the total area allowed to be developed by engineering firms in the structural works category in 2014.
– 58.8 % of quotas are consumed across all provinces and in all categories of engineering works.
The “Engineers Association” decided to suspend the engineer for a year, but he filed a lawsuit with the High Court, which upheld the association’s actions.
The head of the Investor’s Association in the Housing Sector, Kamel al-Awalmeh, confirmed that the absence of a resident engineer negatively affects the quality of construction, causing mistakes during structural works that affect the safety of the buildings. “Complaints come to us and we try to solve them at a rate of 60-70% , rectifying the situation, and very few cases go to court,” he explained.
Raed Haddadin, manager of Construction Inspection in the Amman municipality said the lack of a resident engineer supervising the safety of construction damages the building works and the future residents. “We call on citizens to go to a reputable engineering firm to guarantee the structural safety of the building and protect citizens and residents,” he said.
Violations at the Order
Not just engineering firms but senior officials at the association are also involved in the fake contracts scandal. Qaher Safa, chairman of the Engineering Commission Offices 2012-2015 was one of the key people involved.
The council of the association decided to rerun the elections for Safa’s post in the current session 2015-2017, after Safa won on April 22, 2015 because of the lack of compliance with legal requirements in his office.
Indeed, Safa’s office included a senior electrical engineer registered as a front for the office’s quotas since 10 October 2012 until 4 April 2015, although he spent most of that period abroad except for 13 days. In other words, he did not reside in the kingdom and was not practicing as he is registered, in violation of the regulations of the Order of Engineer. The Order’s decision was based on information obtained from the General Security’s Border and Residence Directorate.
Samir Amarin is an engineer who has run a firm for more than 15 years out of Jabal Luweibdeh in Amman. He believes, “The problem of the engineering sector is that more than 40% of firms are fake sham offices with seals but without real staff or offices.”
Amarin continues, “The association is negligent. There are no resident engineers employed in an orderly manner, nor real supervision. Most schemes are copy paste, copied over in most projects and sites.”
The chairman of the Committee of Engineers Working in Major Companies in the association Sharaf al-Majali believes the Order is not exercising its role in oversight. He said, “Is the engineer registered in projects in its records working in the office for real or not?”
The instructions for registering a resident engineer:
May be registered in two projects per year provided that:
1. The area of each project should be no more than 1000 sq.m
2. The project may not be two projects at the same time
3. The project may not be a public housing project
4. Senior specialist engineers must be present
5. The office headquarters must be inspected
6. Practice permits must be brought.
The reporter sent a letter to the Engineering Offices and Firms Committee on 28 April 2015, requesting figures on the number of complaints against officers and engineers in violation, and the measures taken against them. However, the request was not answered by the time of publication. But according to the annual report of the same body in 2014, there were 9 complaints that year and were being followed up.
The report also showed there were two decisions made to suspend two firms and their owners from the practice temporarily, but did not state the reasons.
The Order goes on the defensive
Majed al-Tabbaa, the new chairman of the Engineers Association, confirms that the fake registration by engineers, offices, and firms of quotas “are existing violations, but they do not amount to a major widespread phenomenon.”
He adds, “In Jordan, there are 120,000 engineers registered in the Order. This is a large number. You will find certain practices in the sector, but they are not a phenomenon. They are an old problem.”
The head of the Engineering Offices and Companies Committee in the association Rayeq Kamel does not know the number of engineers and firms that were caught violating the quota system. But he said, “Maybe there is a 1% or 1 per thousand violations, which is within the expected proportion in the whole world. Our engineering offices are very patriotic institutions.”
Regarding the association’s actions against violates, Tabbaa said, “These include revoking the registration of engineers with retroactive effect, imposing fines on firms, and summoning engineers to sign a pledge not to repeat the same practice of face being banned for 3 years or even partially or permanently suspended.”
The former chairman of the Association Abdullah Obeidat attributes the problem of fraud in quotas to the presence of “brokers” in the Amman municipality that citizens work with to produce engineering schematics. “The brokers take the customers to fake offices and engineers to certify blueprints.”
However, the director of construction monitoring at the Amman municipality Raed Haddadin denied the existence of such brokers. He said, “The municipality does not accept any schematics unless they are approved by the Engineer Association on behalf of a certified engineering firm. If a firm accepts to be blackmailed by brokers or otherwise, this reflects on its own credibility not the municipality’s”.
Housing companies have also been affected by the problem. Obeidat said, “The increase in the number of housing projects has exacerbated the problem. Because housing companies seek to increase their profits, they like to reduce their costs, and thus collaborate with violating firms. Some create fake offices to execute their works.”
But the chairman of the Housing Investors Society Kamal al-Awalmeh stated housing companies do not own engineering offices, but could have contracting companies. He said some with “criminal mentalities” in some housing companies that might accept the presence of a fake resident engineer or engineering office, but these are extremely rare, as he said.
The Order makes excuses
The former chairman of the “Engineers Association” attribute the problem of fake employment of engineers and fake engineering firms to the large number of unemployed engineers, who have little opportunity to find work. Many engineers are thus forced to work in other sectors, while renting out their quotas or accepting to be registered on a sham basis. Majed Tabbaa, the new chairman, agreed with this assessment.
The second reason, according to Obeidat, has to do with the “greed” of some engineers in major firms or who work abroad, and still rent their quotas in return for small sums. Other female engineers also prefer to stay at home, he added, and thus sell their quotas.
Difficult to control
“From a legal formal point of view, the association cannot obtain any proof of an engineer registered on a sham basis while being on paper employed by an engineering firm and not working anywhere else. Therefore, it is hard to control all offices and firms,”stated Obeidat.
He adds, “We took formal procedures by talking with the Social Security Fund. When we find an engineer is insured in another company, we strike his name and his quotas from the last company or office he is registered with. But the issue is difficult to control, because it requires legal procedures, and has another dimension related to ethics of the profession.”
As long as engineering offices and firms continue to exploit fresh grads like Dirar using fake contracts, many Jordanian buildings and developments will be undermined by fraud, with the Order of Engineers all but oblivious of what is happening.
This investigation by the investigative reporting unit at Radio al-Balad was completed with support from Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism (ARIJ) and coached by Musaab al-Shawabkeh.