Bring­ing or­der to the Or­der

A new pres­i­dent of the OEA of Beirut is shak­ing things up

Executive Magazine - - Contents -

Af­ter living in France for 30 years, Jad Ta­bet, an ar­chi­tect and ur­ban plan­ner, re­turned to Le­banon early last year to run for the pres­i­dency of the Or­der of Engi­neers and Ar­chi­tects of Beirut (OEA), an in­de­pen­dent trade syn­di­cate cov­er­ing all Le­banese re­gions bar the North.

Ta­bet cam­paigned as an in­de­pen­dent against Paul Na­jem, a Free Pa­tri­otic Move­ment can­di­date that was backed by sev­eral of Le­banon’s most pow­er­ful po­lit­i­cal groups. Hav­ing se­cured an un­likely vic­tory in May, he is turn­ing his at­ten­tion to sev­eral am­bi­tious goals for his three-year term, in­clud­ing re­form­ing the or­ga­ni­za­tion and in­creas­ing em­ploy­ment for mem­bers in new sec­tors. Ex­ec­u­tive sat down with the new pres­i­dent in Jan­uary to dis­cuss his plans for the OEA.

Tell me about your plat­form, and why you think you were able to come out on top.

In the last few years, there has been a large civic move­ment, with peo­ple rais­ing dif­fer­ent is­sues re­lated to the ques­tion of garbage, elec­tric­ity, wa­ter, pol­lu­tion, etc. My plat­form was based on sev­eral things. The first thing was the par­tic­i­pa­tion of engi­neers in the large is­sues that con­cern the pub­lic. We think that all these is­sues are re­lated, from elec­tric­ity to trans­porta­tion to pol­lu­tion to the preser­va­tion of her­itage, forests, nat­u­ral her­itage, etc. All of these is­sues [ fall un­der the purview] of engi­neers and ar­chi­tects. We have tech­ni­cal so­lu­tions for these things. So one of the first points on my plat­form was that the or­der should play a role in these is­sues. This was not the case be­fore, so since Septem­ber, we have launched a se­ries of con­fer­ences dur­ing which all these is­sues were de­bated, and we in­vited peo­ple from the gov­ern­ment, from dif­fer­ent ad­min­is­tra­tions, to come and dis­cuss these is­sues with us.

The sec­ond thing that we raised was the role of the engi­neers and ar­chi­tects in the mar­ket. The prob­lem is that the mar­ket is shrink­ing. Tra­di­tion­ally, Le­banese engi­neers and ar­chi­tects worked not only in Le­banon but across the whole Arab re­gion. We have 52,000 engi­neers and ar­chi­tects reg­is­tered in the or­der. Ob­vi­ously, the Le­banese mar­ket can­not pro­vide op­por­tu­ni­ties for ev­ery­one, so what [has] hap­pened since the 50s [is that] Le­banese engi­neers and ar­chi­tects [have] worked in the Arab re­gion—mainly in the Gulf—but also in Africa. Now, we know that the mar­ket in these re­gions is shrink­ing, and this is cre­at­ing a big prob­lem for us, for engi­neers. More­over, the real-es­tate sit­u­a­tion in Le­banon is also shrink­ing, and we know through the num­ber of build­ings per­mits for the year [that] 2017 was not a good year, and we’re not ex­pect­ing 2018 to be bet­ter. So this also raises a prob­lem for the engi­neers [try­ing] to find work.

What are your main pri­or­i­ties for 2018?

We are rais­ing two is­sues. The first one should be a real trans­for­ma­tion in the prac­tice of en­gi­neer­ing and ar­chi­tec­ture in this coun­try. I deeply be­lieve that there is gen­eral trend ev­ery­where in the world to­ward what I call the en­vi­ron­men­tal rev­o­lu­tion—I think we’re en­ter­ing a new phase of hu­man his­tory, pro-

tect­ing the en­vi­ron­ment is be­com­ing a ma­jor is­sue, and our engi­neers and ar­chi­tects in Le­banon should be trained for this.

I think this will open new ini­tia­tives and new work pos­si­bil­i­ties for them ev­ery­where in the world, if we train our engi­neers and ar­chi­tects [in en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion] and green build­ings...this will open new [op­por­tu­ni­ties] for them. I deeply feel that [in] the next 10 or 20 years, the is­sue of the en­vi­ron­ment will be [com­mon­place]. Ev­ery­where in the world today, en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion [is] be­com­ing [a] ma­jor is­sue, and [at the mo­ment] we in Le­banon [have not yet caught up]. We should give much more im­por­tance to this and we should train our engi­neers and ar­chi­tects for it.

The other is­sue is [the] in­ter­nal or­ga­ni­za­tion of the or­der. The or­der now has [just over] 50,000 mem­bers, but it is still work­ing as a small club. So one of the main is­sues I’m [pur­su­ing] is trans­form­ing the or­der into a mod­ern in­sti­tu­tion, and to have it [rated by the In­ter­na­tional Or­ga­ni­za­tion for Stan­dard­iza­tion, or ISO]. With 52,000 engi­neers, we should be­come a real mod­ern in­sti­tu­tion with very clear rules of gov­er­nance. This is not the case today.

We should have a real struc­ture that func­tions well: How do you [ ex­pect] the or­der to re­ally serve the engi­neers if the struc­ture does not func­tion well? The other thing that I re­ally want is to have very strict rules of gov­er­nance with no con­flict of in­ter­est pos­si­ble. This is very im­por­tant to me.

When I was elected, I did two things im­me­di­ately. First of all, I [is­sued] a dec­la­ra­tion of what money I owned in ac­counts in the banks, as houses [in] real es­tate, etc. [I] put in a sealed en­ve­lope [the in­for­ma­tion about] all I owned. This en­ve­lope is sealed, and it can be opened at any time in or­der to have real trans­parency.

The other thing I [is­sued was] an of­fi­cial con­flict of in­ter­est dec­la­ra­tion. I [used the] ex­am­ple of what is done [by] in­ter­na­tional or­ga­ni­za­tions. You know when you have UNESCO, [the] United Na­tions, [its nec­es­sary for] key staff to [re­lease a state­ment] on con­flict-of-in­ter­est. I did it, and I want to gen­er­al­ize it for all the elected peo­ple in the or­der. I think this is very im­por­tant. Hav­ing a very clear rule of trans­parency is some­thing that, in a coun­try like Le­banon, is very im­por­tant.

What are some spe­cific ex­am­ples of the struc­tural short­com­ings you’ve al­luded to?

For the time be­ing we don’t have an HR de­part­ment—we have 140 em­ploy­ees, but we don’t have an HR de­part­ment. [At the mo­ment], it’s the di­rec­tor of the or­der and the pres­i­dent who are act­ing as HR man­agers, which is not [ac­cept­able]. This is one ex­am­ple. We have re­ally to [cre­ate] a real struc­ture. We have, for ex­am­ple, a very light and poor com­mu­ni­ca­tions de­part­ment, which is not ac­cept­able. We have to [im­prove the] com­mu­ni­ca­tions de­part­ment with new tech­nolo­gies, etc. The web­site of the or­der is very bad. So all these things should be trans­formed and changed, and for this rea­son we should prob­a­bly hire new peo­ple—but I don’t want to hire peo­ple be­fore the whole eval­u­a­tion and the whole new struc­ture is done.

What are your next steps in achiev­ing this ISO cer­ti­fi­ca­tion?

We are now launch­ing a ten­der among in­ter­na­tional com­pa­nies to help us es­tab­lish a new [in­ter­nal] or­ga­ni­za­tion, to first of all do an eval­u­a­tion of the sit­u­a­tion of the ad­min­is­tra­tion in the or­der today, then pro­pose a new or­ga­ni­za­tional chart that will al­low us to have an or­der that is or­ga­nized based on in­ter­na­tional stan­dards, so that we can ap­ply to have the ISO cer­ti­fi­ca­tion. We’re launch­ing it in the fol­low­ing months.

What is your ex­pected time frame?

The whole process will take around one year [or] one year and a half, and in that case I want to do it be­fore I leave the or­der. I want to have the or­der cer­ti­fied ISO be­fore I leave. We got the ap­proval of the [OEA] coun­cil.

You’ve spo­ken about en­vi­ron­men­tal train­ing pro­grams to help Le­banese gain em­ploy­ment abroad, but what can be done for those engi­neers and ar­chi­tects that hope to make a living while re­main­ing in Le­banon?

I think also in Le­banon this is a very im­por­tant is­sue. You know that more and more en­vi­ron­men-

“With 52,000 engi­neers, we should be­come a real mod­ern in­sti­tu­tion with very clear rules of gov­er­nance. This is not the case today”

tal is­sues in Le­banon are be­com­ing very im­por­tant. You have a lot of pol­lu­tion; it’s be­com­ing [a] ma­jor en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sue. It’s [a] health is­sue also.

What we can do is ba­si­cally train­ing first and then rais­ing aware­ness—rais­ing aware­ness and ex­ert­ing pres­sure on the gov­ern­ment and on [the] pub­lic sec­tor to is­sue laws and reg­u­la­tions for en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion. We did some­thing; now it has be­come a nest for all big projects that are ex­am­ined by the higher coun­cil of ur­ban plan­ning. All big projects that

are ex­am­ined by the higher coun­cil of ur­ban plan­ning should have an en­vi­ron­men­tal ap­proach.

We have started [a] train­ing cen­ter in the or­der. We have started to do train­ing ses­sions on en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues. We’re pre­par­ing the engi­neers, for ex­am­ple, to be­come LEED [Lead­er­ship in En­ergy and En­vi­ron­men­tal De­sign] reg­is­tered engi­neers. You reg­is­ter in the or­der [for] the pro­gram of train­ing and then once you [fin­ish] with the pro­gram you can go to the LEED and present your [qual­i­fi­ca­tions] to be­come LEED cer­ti­fied.

Ar­chi­tects and engi­neers fre­quently re­port that they are un­der­paid in re­la­tion to the fees rec­om­mended by the OEA. What can be done to im­prove their wages?

This is true. Look, I will tell you some­thing. We’re in a free mar­ket. Le­banon is a free mar­ket, and you can’t in­ter­vene. The per­cent­age put in the or­der is a sort of in­cen­tive, it’s a di­rec­tion that is given, but you can­not force [ it]. You can’t force the own­ers, the de­vel­op­ers, to ap­ply these things. [ For ex­am­ple, the Tripoli OAE said fees paid to mem­bers should be paid at the or­der at fixed rates. But mem­bers started to re­im­burse part of their salary to de­vel­op­ers to re­main com­peta­tive.]

Ar­chi­tects and engi­neers also re­port is­sues of over­reg­u­la­tion as­so­ci­ated with tech­ni­cal con­trol of­fices that were estab­lished a few years ago.

It’s not the or­der that in­stalled this; [ it was] the gov­ern­ment. It’s a gov­ern­men­tal de­cree im­pos­ing this is­sue of tech­ni­cal con­trol, which is some­thing that came from France. It’s a copy of what hap­pens in France. I think the de­cree has a lot of things that do not work. It’s not well ap­plied in Le­banon; it’s not adapted to the Le­banese case. We are now dis­cussing [ it] with these [ of­fices]. [ Cur­rently] you have sev- en bu­reaus of con­trol, tech­ni­cal of­fices. We’re talk­ing with them to try to set up some rules for their work.

We want to or­ga­nize these tech­ni­cal con­trol of­fices, be­cause we’re get­ting a lot of com­plaints from engi­neers that they take money, [ but] they don’t do what is re­ally im­por­tant, and what is their real func­tion. They don’t go to the site, etc. So we want to [ im­pose some] sort of con­trol on them. We hope that the de­cree will be changed. We’re try­ing to work on a com­mit­tee that would pro­pose amend­ments to the de­cree to the gov­ern­ment and to the minister of pub­lic works.

When you ran for the pres­i­dency of the OEA, a few par­ties said they backed you, in­clud­ing Beirut Mad­i­nati, Kataeb, and the Pro­gres­sive So­cial­ist Party. Do you iden­tify with any of these par­ties?

No. In fact, I will tell you ex­actly what hap­pened. I had been living in France for 30 years, and in De­cem­ber 2016, I got a phone call from a for­mer stu­dent of mine [ who] told me, “We want to have some­body that runs for the pres­i­dency of the or­der, that could be backed by the civil so­ci­ety, who would not be af­fil­i­ated to any po­lit­i­cal party ... You are a fig­ure, a pro­fes­sional fig­ure. We want you to run for this post.” I told them, “Look, I don’t think we have [ a good chance of win­ning], but, if you want, I will do it just to do cam­paign that raises ma­jor is­sues.” We did the cam­paign, I was backed by sev­eral [ groups]: Beirut Mad­i­nati, but not only [ them], by other civil- so­ci­ety groups [ as well]. The back­ing by Kataeb and [ the] Pro­gres­sive So­cial­ist Party only came [ in] the last week. I will be very frank with you. The whole cam­paign was done with the civil so­ci­ety, not only Beirut Mad­i­nati.

So you were not, and are not, a mem­ber of Beirut Mad­i­nati?

I’ve never been a mem­ber of Beirut Mad­i­nati. Never. I have friends in Beirut Mad­i­nati. I have peo­ple with whom I work, but I’m not a mem­ber of Beirut Mad­i­nati.

When you were elected, you won by a nar­row mar­gin of only 21 votes. How would you de­scribe your re­la­tion­ship with the OAE coun­cil and other mem­bers now that you’re the pres­i­dent?

“I’m not against engi­neers and ar­chi­tects be­ing af­fil­i­ated to po­lit­i­cal par­ties, but what is im­por­tant is that, when they are in the or­der, they ba­si­cally act as such.”

You know that the coun­cil of the or­der is sort of [ a] re­duced ex­am­ple of the Coun­cil of Min­is­ters. You have all po­lit­i­cal par­ties there. It’s not al­ways easy. I al­ways say that, well, I’m not against po­lit­i­cal par­ties. I’m not against engi­neers and ar­chi­tects be­ing af­fil­i­ated to po­lit­i­cal par­ties, but what is im­por­tant is that when they are in the or­der, they ba­si­cally act as [ such], hav­ing in mind the in­ter­est of engi­neers and ar­chi­tects. And what I told them, what I al­ways tell [ them], is that they should take these in­ter­ests and con­cerns and [ raise them with] their po­lit­i­cal par­ties, and not the re­verse. Not the in­ter­est and con- cerns of their po­lit­i­cal par­ties the or­der. This is very sim­ple to say, but it’s very dif­fi­cult to ap­ply. It’s not easy. I’m try­ing to work with this. We’ll see. (This in­ter­view has been edited for length and clar­ity .)

A new pres­i­dent of the Or­der of Engi­neers and Ar­chi­tects of Beirut is shak­ing things up

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