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We are ready and able, say engineers
NST-PROP 29/01/2005

It's wrong to say consultants shouldn't be allowed to certify our houses as fit for occupation

THIS week, the Association of Consulting Engineers Malaysia (ACEM) argues why self-certification will benefit house buyers and rebuts the comments made by the National House Buyers Association in our Jan 8 issue.

The article by the National House Buyers Association (HBA) in Property Times on Jan 8 does not necessarily represent the views of the majority of house buyers in the country. The fact is, professional consultants including engineers, are also house buyers, as are the staff of local authorities.

In order to be a worthy representative of house buyers in the country, we believe the HBA ought to have more than 50 per cent of them as members. On the other hand, the Association of Consulting Engineers Malaysia (ACEM) can claim to represent consultant engineers in the country by virtue of the fact that the majority of them are its members.

Before Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi's call for self-certification, newspapers had reported widely on unnecessary delays in the issuance of Certificate of Fitness for Occupation (CFs) as a result of red tape and bureaucracy, apart from other complaints.

Following the PM's announcement, various groups campaigned for self-certification to be undertaken by "independent third party certifiers". When studies carried out concluded that there was no added value in paying extra for such independent certifiers, the HBA and another group decided to champion the status quo - inferring that perhaps the current system was proper and that our PM was wrong.

Meanwhile, the relevant ministries identified professional architects and engineers as the most appropriate parties to carry out self-certification, since existing laws hold them responsible and liable for overseeing the construction process.

It must be noted that self-certification in this case does not apply to houses alone, but to all types of buildings, the value and risks of which are exponentially higher. The rationale that house buyers' exposure is relatively far greater than corporate interests is acknowledged.

The need to address the problems of CF issuance by local authorities was initiated by the Ministry of Housing and Local Government more than four years ago. This culminated in the decision that self-certification be applied to detached houses, which the project architects issuing Certificates of Completion and Compliance (CCCs) in lieu of CFs.

For the record, this self-certification for detached houses has been successfully practised for the last three years without a single complaint. Following this, the ministry about two years ago proceeded to study the extension of self-certification to industrial buildings, especially factories.

The engineers requested "time-out" at that point, so as to strengthen their disciplinary procedures and other relevant matters. As it now stands, the PM's June 2004 call to extend self-certification to all buildings was a move to accelerate the whole process.

Self-regulation is the corner stone of a maturing society and it is a fallacy to assume that Malaysia is still not ready for its gradual introduction. Perhaps the fact that the most complicated of all engineering design works, structural engineering, is already self-regulated will put this fallacy to rest.

Professional consultants are required to submit their structural designs and calculations to the local authority for record purposes. These documents will only be referred to should there by any structural failure.

The local authorities do not have the manpower, or expertise, to check and approve these submissions and hence, self-regulation by engineers has already been in practice.

Unfortunately, in comparison, the less complicated engineering designs require approvals by the various authorities and in most instances, these are subject to comments by technicians. Today, engineers and architects are working closely with the Housing Ministry to address these colossal unproductive delays in the delivery system - and move towards self-regulation.

Having given this overview, ACEM would like to respond, as a body of professional consultants who are also house buyers, to the various concerns raised in the HBA article.

The call for self-certification has given the housing industry an opportunity to address the main grouses of house buyers which are "over-certification" for the release of housing loans and "quality of workmanship".

The issue of quality of workmanship will require action by others within the construction fraternity as well.  To achieve this objective, we have accelerated our call to builders, tradesmen and resident site supervisors to be properly regulated and licensed, as is practised in developed countries. It is our fervent hope that organisations such as HBA can join this call as a constructive means of resolving the perennial problem of quality, instead of blaming the local authorities and us.

No organisation in the world can guarantee the absence of black sheep in its ranks. Professionals are regulated, and the consequence of deregistration should not be underestimated. The loss of reputation and livelihood can destroy and individual far more than any other punitive measure.

There was also a poser that even if one per cent of the professionals are delinquent, hundreds of house buyers would face undue suffering. On the flip side, because of the overzealous need to eliminate professional delinquency (which in reality can never be achieved), is it then the intention of HBA to prevent the remaining 99 per cent to issue CFs to the thousands of house buyers simultaneously with vacant possession?

The issuance of the CCC does not eliminate the check-and-balance mechanism. The local authorities retain their clout to enter any site at any time during the construction stage, or upon completion, to carry out any inspection they deem fit. To check only at the completed stage would be too late, hence relieving the local authorities from this last stage formality of issuing CFs would free their staff to carry out stage inspections as provided for under the Uniform Building By-Laws.

The article also touched on the setting up of One-Stop Centres (OSC) by the Housing Ministry as a means of speeding up CF issuance. It needs to be clarified that OSCs serve to speed up the delivery system at the design and planning approval stages as well, rather than the final CF alone.

There was also reference to the "14-day rule" to ensure that local authorities approve CFs within that period, failing which a CF application is "deemed to be approved". Unfortunately, at ground level, this "14-day rule" has been circumvented to such an extent that the PM has called for it to be done away with and replaced with self-certification.


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