The absence of technical expertise in the procurement of infrastructure is starting to have an increasingly adverse effect on the quality and sustainability of our country’s infrastructure. Consulting Engineers South Africa (CESA), which represents over 580 South African consulting engineering firms employing more than 21 000 people, believes we need to be building infrastructure of quality, that is sustainable and stands the test of time, keeping the health and safety of the population as the critical success factors and not placing these at risk.

                                        Chris Campbell, CESA CEO.

Over the coming months, CESA aims to bring stakeholders in the infrastructure development arena together to come up with sustainable solutions to the challenges our country currently faces. The campaign includes a series of webinars, the first on 14th October entitled, ‘Why has government chosen infrastructure development as a key driver for economic growth and what needs to happen to make this a reality?’.

CESA CEO Chris Campbell states, “If you are not using the correct design principles and you are not making use of consulting engineers to get the best design at the most cost-effective price for your project, you are essentially trading with the lives and livelihoods of our population.

“Government appears to be focusing only on the creation of jobs in its infrastructure development goals as a means for economic growth, and it is not looking at the bigger picture,” he continues.   “These jobs will be temporary, during the construction phase, but the key issue is to promote better utility services and better accessibility, transport services and systems for the movement of goods and people, which contribute to economic growth, and in turn grow the economy in respect of trade and tourism and other sectors, for more sustainable long-term job creation.”

Campbell says the country’s two larger infrastructure custodians, SANRAL and Eskom, are nowhere near in a position to support the scale of projects required to kickstart the economic growth trajectory. “If we are to pursue government’s proposed infrastructure programme, the frequent power outages are, for example, impacting the ability of materials’ suppliers to deliver for project execution.” The lack of adequate transport corridors allowing for the effective movement of goods will also hamper the growth of our economy. “We are aspiring to these ‘big-build shovel-ready’ projects, but fundamentally we are not in a position to execute them effectively,” he says.

Looking at an institution like Eskom, Campbell suggests, “We need strategic partners within the industry to provide the technical capability lacking that is lacking. The consulting engineering fraternity has the capacity and skills to support government in achieving its goals by supplementing its shortage of technical people.

Many government entities are prevented from using the services of ‘consultants’ but the argument for not using consulting engineering companies is flawed. Campbell notes, “It is only expensive to use consultants if you already have that specific competency within your organisation, but if not, you need to use external sources to fill the gaps and complement internal skills, because the decisions that have to be made have a significant immediate cost impact – and an even bigger cost impact on our economy.”

Campbell also raises concerns on the process evolving from the Sustainable Infrastructure Development Symposium (SIDS), noting a lack of disclosure, even at a high level which would not compromise fair procurement processes. He asks: “Government, where is your programme for the next five years, even at a high-level view, that illustrates that this is real, that people can expect some progress and we can hold you to account if the programme is not being met?”

He says the SIDSA process and programme seem to be veiled in secrecy. “We are not looking for specific project details. What we are asking is: after the Stage 1 announcement, what is the next step? What are we hoping to achieve in the next five years? Industry and business need to know how to gear up for that, or even to ascertain if we are going to be able to stay in business, will we have an industry? Is this process possibly going to take too long so that by the time we want to start breaking ground, we have no more construction companies left with the capacity for such big-build projects?

“During the current pandemic, the constant message from the President’s Office is that of ‘Protecting Lives and Livelihoods’. We want to extend this to issues of health and safety in relation to adequately designed and constructed infrastructure in our new-build processes and in the timely maintenance of existing infrastructure. Likewise, ongoing and timely build and maintenance programmes serve to preserve jobs and the livelihoods of the many families that depend on sustainable infrastructure to support a growing and healthy economy.”

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