Politically, former Prime Minister Hailemariam Dessalegn will likely be best known for instigating a peaceful transition of power. Yet, he has dedicated a large chunk of his life to the engineering profession and academia. As he continues his life of service he is busy helping to improve the Ethiopian Association of Civil Engineers (EACE). He hopes to serve as imputes for instilling an ethical mindset in the nation’s citizens from the womb to the tomb in order to nip the virus of corruption the nation is experiencing in the bud. Capital’s reporter sits down and talks with Hailemariam about his role strengthening EACE.
Capital: Tell us about your new role serving EACE, how have you managed to be so productive in your busy life?
Hailemariam Dessalegn: There is always enough time for any job if you use proper time management. I do have a lot more time since I have resigned as Prime Minister because I am not in such a stressful environment. Now I want to spend my time implementing a vibrant, professional association which I have learned about after several years in the civil engineering field. I have spent many years in higher education and the profession, and in the civil engineering association as a regular, honorable member. I believe that as the main member I need to continue to contribute. In addition to my regular membership, I need to use my influence to help the association reach its full potential and take it to the next level. For instance we need to develop professional certification. The association needs to work with the government to improve rules and regulations. There have been efforts made already but we want to push these along to ensure they become successful.
Most of the civil engineers in Ethiopia are young; so it is our duty to ensure their ethical and professional capacity is strengthened. They should be working together with higher education facilities because this is vital for the development of our nation. Ethics isn’t something you catch all of a sudden it’s something that must be developed starting in childhood. Universities must play a major role in creating ethical citizens. However, the universities have very poor performance in this regard and I want to play a role in making things better. Ethics will make the entire nation successful. If you look at the construction industry in Ethiopia, there are some construction companies which have failed to live up to the ethical principles of the profession. The wealth of the nation did not have to be wasted because of the ethical lapses of some. It is very difficult to hear about such destruction and they must be stopped before it is too late. So the role for the professional association is complex. I want to use my previous experience and influence to bring significant change to this sector. I have decided to contribute my efforts to the sector and the association.
Capital: How will you use your connections with the outside world to improve the performance of the association in the global chain?
Hailemariam: I am now engaged in various global initiatives. I have to choose from many requests which mean a very good opportunity to make our association internationally competitive. Establishing relationships with the American Civil Engineers Association and Canadian Civil Engineers Association helps us to gain prominence and establish relationships. Also, working with emerging associations in China, Europe and Africa is fundamental. Fortunately the president of European Civil Engineer Association is my classmate when I was in Finland that is a good opportunity for our association to establish good cooperation. Sharing knowledge with associations which have a lot of experience will help us grow and prosper.
Capital: The association has several programs related to improving members’ skills. At the same time the financial crunch has affected its activity. How will you use your influence to alleviate the financial problems the association is experiencing, and can you obtain global financial support?
Hailemariam: I believe we have to give priority to local resource mobilization and not rely on international aid. I always look at the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church as an example. They managed to build beautiful buildings in towns. They accomplished this through the support of their congregations not resources from abroad. In the construction sector, we have good resources we have not resorted to using foreign aid. Most of the class one contractors in Ethiopia are civil engineers and they are wealthy. So if they want their profession to be respected they have to contribute and their investment will be even more significant than institutional contributions. Also, other members who live via their salaries have to continue contributing as much as they can. The government has also given enough space so the associations including other engineering associations besides civil engineers can build our offices and lease areas. We have to come together with these other engineering associations to construct our buildings. We can demonstrate the construction and architectural development of the nation with our head office. We could also generate significant income by owning such a building. So this is the responsibility that I am planning to take with the leaders of the associations, to approach the Prime Minister and Addis Ababa Mayor to give us enough land.
Capital: Reduction of waste in the construction sector has been a priority topic in your 21st general assembly held here in the UNECA. How can the nation use its resources more wisely?
Hailemariam: There was a proclamation and regulation issued to govern the mobilization of construction for infrastructure. The mobilization of utilities is based on the road projects. There is also an agency established to govern the issue named the Federal Integrated Infrastructure Development Coordinating Agency. So the government noticed the matter and even established a respective body but the problem is implementation. But beyond all our perception towards the urban cultural matters, our culture is an agrarian culture which is transitioning into an urban culture. So there is a need to change the mindset. If you notice the understanding of our children towards us there is a similarity. Many matters are going to be resolved when we join the middle-income living standards and change our life style.
Capital: Many people say that the construction sector has been hijacked by misdemeanors and illegal acts. At the same time the government admits that corruption is a major challenge in the construction sector. What should the government do regarding this?
Hailemariam: This is one of the major issues that always make me depressed and worrisome. The main role has to be made in society to make corruption a sin. This is not a role only to be played by the government. What the government is doing is filling the gap but other holes will erupt if this is not solved at the society level. The professional associations have to play a significant role in such a manner, and that is their main duty as other nations have experienced. Professional ethics is their main duty but the government must encourage professional associations. If the associations are entitled to professional licensing they will regulate their members. They will take significant actions against their members if they are entitled to the process. The government is hunting the criminals but that is not a sustainable method. The sustainability has to be focused on avoiding the ethical irregularities especially corruption before it happens.