The new Engineering Consultancy Law – entitled the Law Regulating the Work of Engineering Consultancy Offices – was enacted on 12 May 2016. It repeals and replaces the former Engineering Consultancy Law (SD 120/1994), by which the engineering consultancy profession in the Sultanate has been regulated for the past 20 years or so. Much of what is contained in the new law is familiar, however a significant amount has been expanded, clarified and brought up to date. For instance, the new law contains entirely new chapters dealing with engineers in employment (chapter 3), the establishment of a reorganised disciplinary committee known as the Violations Committee (chapter 5) and, in chapter 6, a new regime for penalties for non-compliance with the licensing requirements and for "grossly negligent" work. These new penalties extend to imprisonment and fines.
As we understand it, the new law is the culmination of a process initiated in 2010 with a number of key objectives including:
- raising and maintaining standards in the engineering consultancy profession;
- closer regulation of the qualifications and expertise needed of foreign consultants entering the Omani market; and
- institutionalising Omanisation in the engineering profession and promoting the development and education of Omani engineers.
Some of the key features of the new law are as follows:
- A notably wide definition of the term "Engineering Consultancy" and a key distinction made between an "Engineering Office" and an "Engineering Consultancy Office".
- The reason for the distinction between an Engineering Consultancy Office and an Engineering Office becomes apparent in Article 7. This sets out the levels of experience required for a licence to be granted to either type of firm, as set out below.
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- Stricter provisions aiming to prevent conflicts of interest.
- In addition to providing more documentation, such as professional indemnity insurance and a parent company guarantee, foreign firms must now exhibit a commitment to promoting local talent by presenting an Omanisation plan, a five-year HR plan and a training plan for Omani engineers.
- Minimum specified criteria for all engineers, whether Omanis or foreigners, working in the office.
- More prescriptive requirements regarding who may, and may not, "sign off" on drawings and other documents.
- New criminal penalties for malpractice and professional negligence, ranging from three months to three years of imprisonment, and civil fines of up to 50,000 Omani Rials. Interestingly, gross negligence endangering people, property or the environment is also penalised under Article 29.
Article 31 of the new regulations provides that the Ministry of Commerce and Industry must issue executive regulations within six months of the promulgation of this law.
Although it is not clear what these executive regulations might contain at this stage, we imagine they might include more detail as to the competences and powers of the relevant officials of the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, an adjudication process to be applied by the newly reorganised Violations Committee and/or clarification on the distinction between Engineering Offices and Engineering Consultancy Offices as well as other clarifications on the way this new law is to be implemented.
There is no doubt that the new law represents an important update of the legislation, with some new provisions which are likely to have significant consequences for firms to which the law applies.