A round-table discussion on the Distribution Code Review Panel (DCRP) organised by Nama Group and OER underlines the need for safeguarding the rights of electricity consumers in addition to reviewing Oman Electrical Standards (OES) to align with the current needs of the electricity sector
- Eng. Sultan Said Al Qatabi, Manager, DCRP
- Eng. Hassan Al Abduwani, CEO, Voltamp Energy
- Eng. Ali Shamas, Chairman, DCRP
- Eng. Abdullah Al Busaidi, CEO, International Energy and Investment LLC
- Eng. Yousuf Mohammed Al Mahrooqi, Senior Manager-Projects Delivery, Muscat Electricity Distribution Company (MEDC)
Moderator: Mayank Singh, Group Editor-OER
MODERATOR: What has DCRP achieved till date? How has it helped the contractors and helped protect consumers?
Eng. Ali Shamas: This is a very important question that we, at DCRP, ask ourselves. We always ensure that we add value and deliver the regulatory requirements. DCRP reviews the distribution code and ensures that any update that is required is communicated to the regulator. Second is the approvals required to ensure that the sector has proper material, contractors and safety systems. It is a process that took a while. First it was done by only members of the company, but that was not good enough because the meetings only happened once in three months. There is a lot of work involved especially in material approval like visiting manufacturers. We also helped the manufacturers in Oman to get the experience required to be on par with international standards. So now, the Omani manufacturers and also the contractors are on par with international standards. I think this itself is a very huge contribution to the whole country.
Moderator: The DCRP chairman, has talked about what DCRP has achieved. Eng. Sultan, you work directly for DCRP, What are your thoughts?
Eng. Sultan: From 2005 to 2013, there were only some groups working on the approvals. It was very difficult to hold meetings of these groups. So the approvals were a little slow. Since the DCRP was established in 2013, the waiting time has reduced from years to weeks. From 2005 to 2013, 58 products were approved, but since 2013 till date, more than 150 products have been approved, which is a huge achievement for DCRP. Additionally, there were less than 50 protection engineers earlier, but now we have more than 100 protection engineers. We have also shortened the time for approvals from weeks to just two weeks in certain cases.
Moderator: Eng. Hassan, you have worked on both sides – the regulatory side and now the private sector. Both the chairman and Eng. Sultan have made some claims about a lot being achieved. Do you think it is right or do you think there are still challenges?
Eng. Hassan: Firstly, I believe the DCRP was established through law. Before, it was led by separate general managers. However, when it was announced that it is now a separate entity, with a separate location and separate personnel, I felt that it was a great achievement by itself. The achievement is indeed great but the only missing link is the communication from the DCRP to the vendor and the contractor. If this was accessible on the website, people would have known the steps. Apart from this, I think there needs to be a process for encouraging Omanis to come into this field. Omanis in this field should be trained properly. Regarding protection engineers, I think that it is a great job by the DCRP. There has been good progress on this side.
Moderator: You spoke of the lack of communication, so what would you advice as a solution to this?
Eng. Hassan: I think firstly it should be clear on the DCRP website, which it isn’t. Secondly, when someone has a problem, it isn’t about communication by means of letters. It’s essential to directly discuss with the manufacturer and contractor.
Moderator: Eng. Ali Shamas do you want to respond to that?
Eng. Ali Shamas: Yes, he is correct. At the last DCRP meeting, we discussed the need to communicate via the web so we have already discussed about moving in that direction-Registering through the web and so on. We also discussed the challenges faced by a new graduate. We have developed a two- week course which we will be conducting free of charge to all the aspiring Omanis. It will cover all the training related to wiring as we said, all the scope itself. After two weeks they will be tested. We are dealing with a very serious issue that is electricity so we need to be tough and very precise.
Moderator: Eng. Abdullah, you come from the contracting community, do you agree with what Eng. Hassan has said? Are there other issues that you face in the DCRP or are you happy with it?
Eng. Abdullah: Firstly, I support what Eng. Hassan has had to say. But there are issues. I want to add, about the safety for the contractors. There is miscommunication between DCRP contractors and employees. English and Arabic are two languages that are used to communicate. But there are some with very low education, who cannot understand both the languages. How do we enable them to know the safety standards of Oman?
Moderator: Eng. Yusuf, you are from the distribution side, what are your thoughts on the DCRP?
Eng. Yousuf: It is mandatory for the company – the distribution companies to own and manage the DCRP companies. The DCRP directly protects the customers and the companies as well. They are protecting the customers in two ways. Firstly, they are approving the products. So they conduct the technical investigation about the products and they certify them. This is the first step before the product enters the market. If the product is good, the possibility of failure is very low. The second point has to do with the Grade E and the Grade D companies that also approve electricians and wiring inspectors. This is a tedious process because if there is a mistake in the wiring, it can lead to fatalities. Safety of people is the most important issue which cannot be compromised. Maybe we should listen to the stakeholders, and the contractors when they say they are Grade E and don’t work in homes. We must listen to them and give different certificates for work in the upper stream.
Moderator: Thank you Yusuf. I want to go back to the chairman. You have heard both Eng. Abdullah and Eng. Yusuf speak and raise issues such as certification, manuals not being printed in different languages, bureaucratic problems and communication issues. Are these being addressed by the DCRP? And in this light, do you suggest any changes at the DCRP?
Eng. Shamas: As Yusuf said, work related to wiring is especially important because the certification comes from lows to highs. So first we need to start with the wiring. Then we have to go higher to the stations and anyone who can do those higher jobs can do any lower jobs as well. It isn’t possible to approve someone from the middle and not to be starting from the bottom, which is wiring. This is the process of approval. This is why when someone doesn’t have a job at the stations tomorrow he can be utilised for wiring. That base knowledge is very much required.
The second aspect is about the process of approvals, especially the contractors. There is always room for improvement. At every meeting, we discuss about new ways to make it easier and we appreciate any comments. Yet when it comes to an employee and something isn’t signed or doesn’t have a stamp, they themselves make the judgement instead of involving the management. It is a local decision by the people, who is part of the process. We emphasise to all DCRP members that after safety, the most important thing is to ease the process.
Moderator: Eng. Sultan would you like to add anything to what the chairman said?
Eng. Sultan: I want to comment on HSC material. I believe that there are some institutes that deliver materials in Hindi and Malayalam languages. I have visited them and there were some errors in the Hindi language. Like Hindi, there are other languages as well. How do we deliver in all these languages? I think by using your foreman or an engineer, he can clarify the aspects to lower level workers. I think it’s the better way. But, delivering the material in different languages, is very difficult.
Moderator: Eng. Hassan, if you are to suggest one or two changes to DCRP, what would they be?
Eng. Hassan: In Oman, there are a lot of authorities such as Ministry of Defense and Haya. What is happening is that everyone is asking for the product approval, which is a concern for the contractor or the supplier. Once you finish with the DCRP and go to the MOD or the Haya, they are not approved. I think the DCRP should take the lead on this issue and develop a system online. Further, SME contractors are not necessarily engineers, they could be diploma holders. DCRP always looks for Engineers, but they should also look for people like those with a smaller Grade 2 and help them start a business. The process should be simplified and health and safety should be a priority.
Eng. Yousuf: The issue concerning the training institute is still something we have been discussing about and trying to bring it under the umbrella of the distribution company.
Moderator: Eng. Shamas, do you have any suggestions in mind?
Eng. Ali Shamas: I think we need to look at a couple of issues raised here. Eng. Hassan has raised the issue of common approval of material. I think this is very critical and needs to be taken to the next level. As regards the issue of SMEs, we are also meeting with the ICV and are focusing on how to help these companies to move on.
As for the approval of the companies, we don’t approve them only with the certification that they already have all the requirements. In these requirements they have types such as this type of engineer, but the most important element of the company is the specialists. We test whether the person himself or herself is capable of delivering the job. So this is a very professional work, which requires all the people involved to be at a very capable level. We cannot let that rest when the company is approved so we cannot bring in anyone without that capability.
Moderator: What is your take on the fact that for SMEs, DCRP should not insist that the recruits don’t have to be engineers?
Eng. Shamas: This rule is for those companies that are developing. We do have SMEs even now that aren‘t run by engineers and are run by young businessmen. And if we look at all the companies that have been approved, you will find a lot of companies that aren’t run by engineers.
For Grade E, if they want to have an engineer with them, it’s okay. What we’re thinking is that we see a lot of electricians in the market who are graduates not finding jobs. So the best thing that we, the DCRP thought we can do is develop them and give them certification so they can start their professional life. They can start their own jobs, or even join other SMEs. Because now they are already certified and when a company wants to go from Grade E to D or C, they already have people in the market that they can start with.
Moderator: Another very important topic on the agenda is electrical standards. Is OES enough or more needs to be done? Does it need to be updated? There have been some issues which we had if you look at the images right now. Does any want to comment on that?
Eng. Sultan: In our last meeting, we have been informed that the authority is agreeing to update it as soon as possible.
Moderator: Eng. Shamas, where do we stand in terms of Oman Electrical Standards (OES)?
Eng. Al Shamas: It’s is DCRP’s responsibility to review and give feedback to the authority. It has been always on our agenda to look at what is required. Indeed, we are discussing with the regulator and we are now planning to go article by article. We have already started forming a plan on how to do it as we cannot review all at a time.
Moderator: Eng. Hassan do you have some views on that?
Eng. Hassan: The OES is very old. There is an argument between regulator and the companies. The regulator says they should do updating. There is certainly no problem in that, however the initiative should come from DCRP. Otherwise, nobody will be updating the OES.
Eng. Yousuf: One of the key elements of OES is having a minimum standard. We cannot go lower, but nobody has said that we cannot go higher. At least, we should maintain the minimum standards.
Eng. Ali Shamas: I think we are here because we feel responsible for the Distribution Code and it focuses on Oman’s electrical standards. Indeed, as mentioned by Eng. Yousuf that it is a minimum requirement. There is little difference in our view between specifications and standards. In one of our recent meetings we discussed as to how we can give feedback to the Authority for Electricity Regulation (AER) as we need to give feedback on certain areas that need to be updated. We want to identify the articles that need to be focused on as we have a limited team, unless we take the help of an external consultant. There will be four teams who will go to each of those OES standards. We are in the process of forming teams who will give a feedback on the standards.
Moderator: Eng. Yousuf has raised a very important point saying that how standards itself becomes a barrier. It says that you can’t go even higher. Will you be raising these to the AER?
Eng. Ali Shamas: There are some gray areas that we need to bridge between the responsibilities of distribution companies, AER and DCRP. We need to clear out those areas which each of them will be responsible for. This sector started to operate effectively from 2005 and it has grown in its current form since 2013. Being involved with operations like contractor approval, material approval, HSE, protection takes away a lot of our time, leaving us little time for planning and review. Since review is actually the most critical and important part, we have to ensure that this area is being given all the attention that it requires. But indeed there are areas that require a minimum standard to be met, which has already been thought about but it is taking some time. As new things come into the systems and technology improves there is always requirement to improve.
Moderator: There is a question from the contractor side, what are the main issues or challenges when it comes to registering with DCRP and what can be done to solve the issues that are there?
Eng. Abdullah: DCRP and the contractor should sit together and see what are the difficulties faced by companies and then arrive at a solution. Each contractor needs to spend money and DCRP needs to find a way to support SMEs or other companies. For example, if my registration expires may be in 6 months and I do not renew the registration, I cannot bid for any tender floated by any of the electricity distribution companies such as Mazoon, Muscat or Majan. Some contractors are forced to stop operations for two to four months as they are waiting for registration. It is important that this process is simplified.
Moderator: Eng. Yousuf, do you have any thoughts on the issue?
Eng. Yousuf: I do support the idea of sitting with the contractors and we may have to reconsider this. In MEDC we had a workshop called Partners, where we collected all our contractors and suppliers, and raised the question “How do we improve?’ and there were two or three initiatives that resulted from this workshop, and now we are generating the definitions from these discussions. This is a way to improve the relation between DCRP and the contractors
Eng. Ali Shamas: Yes, I think this is an area that calls for a customer focus. Once you are an authority you look at yourself as a provider, compared to looking companies as customers, and we are working on getting this into our culture. For example, we used to review applications every three months, till we discovered that there was something missing here and there that was taking up all the time. So now the committee meets almost every week or every 2 weeks, whenever they have a couple of applications. Now everyone is treating the companies that come for certifications as customers, instead of someone asking for certification. So there has been a change in mind-sets. We collectively decided that DCRP will encourage contractors are partners. Because we need them as much as they need us.
Moderator: Eng. Hassan do you have any thoughts on what the Chairman is saying we are looking at contractors as partners, is that happening now?
Eng. Hassan: There is a problem on both sides. On the one side the contractors know that their license is expiring on such and so date, but despite that they wait till up to the last minute, may be just before 15 days before the expiration to file a renewal application. On the other side also, they take their own time. They have to make a file, take it to the DCRP panel, and after that also it is only a recommendation as the final approval rests with the DCRP board. So there time taken on both sides. A better communication system would help here. If there is a notice from the DCRP to the contractor that your application is expiring on such and so date, and if you do not submit your application on time then there will be a delay in process. This will help. So the gap lies in communication from both sides.
Moderator: It’s an important point and also our next question. DCRP is just a recommendatory board, and you don’t have the power to implement your recommendations, is this a hindrance?
Eng. Sultan: It is not a problem actually. It is right that we recommend for approval but each company has their own rules. I think Eng. Ali can answer this better.
Moderator: Eng. Ali Shamas, is that a problem in getting the distribution code updated? Because you still have to depend on the other bodies?
Eng. Ali Shamas: That’s a good question, as we have to see as to what is our responsibility. Let me wear both my hats as the CEO of Dhofar Power Company and the Chairman of DCRP and see their respective responsibilities. The DCRP is a recommendation body and the certification body for companies. Once companies have completed the first stage, they get a green light stating that the company is capable to deliver all the material that is approved.
We as distribution companies are still responsible for the application and assurance that the contractor is capable of delivering. As a distribution company when we get them a contract, we check their manpower, their promised capabilities etc. So this becomes easy for us because DCRP has already done a thorough check. DCRP does a massive job in terms of certifications but discos are also responsible. Muscat Electricity Distribution Company is responsible for Muscat, Dhofar is responsible for the concession area that they have. We don’t see it as a problem, we see it as a good process that requires DCRP to do the recommendation, we to do the double checking, and finally agree on it.
Moderator: Would the other side, as a contractor agree or do you feel that if they have the power to implement their own recommendations things would be fast?
Eng. Hassan: Can I just clarify, I think there is a misunderstanding about the timing. It is not a matter of timing and please correct me if needed, the DCRP panel meets every three months, whereas the committee meets every week. There is no method of circulation as everything has to be done at the DCRP meeting. So I am talking about only the timing, I am not talking about the process as the process is excellent. DCRP giving recommendation and approvals is perfect. The only issue is a delay from the DCRP side and from the contractor’s side in submission of the file.
Eng. Ali Shamas: Thank you Eng. Hassan, maybe I misunderstood. Since the time that I became the Chairman, I have requested for approval by circulation. So this has been going on now for a while. Any file which is complete is circulated by email, and is approved through on mail. One the initial checks are done, it is sent to us immediately and we immediately approve the whole thing, so things do not get delayed.
Moderator: Eng. Abdullah do you want to say something?
Eng. Abdullah: Yes, it’s about the timing and if that can be addressed it will help.
Eng. Sultan: I want to comment on the responsibilities of DCRP and the distribution company’s responsibilities. As you know DCRP’s responsibility is to check the minimum requirements. For example, for a grade A, only we have 23 or 24 entries. But to cite an example you know that to build a primary substation we may need more than 60 employees. The task of checking the ability of the staff lies with the distribution companies. Moreover, we have an initiative in DCRP wherein we not only verify the skill levels given in the application itself, but we go beyond by giving a DCRP verification for all entire staff of the company. As a part of this process they have to match the requirements in the application itself. For example, if they has more professional engineers, all of them need to have to have the same certificates and experience as per the requirement.