Consulting Engineers South Africa (CESA) President, Sugen Pillay, presented his presidential message and theme for the year at a virtual event held in early February and attended by media, CESA members and infrastructure stakeholders from around the country. Pillay revealed the CESA theme for 2021 as Rebuilding with Purpose.

Sugen Pillay and Chris Campbell

CESA President, Sugen Pillay (right) and Chris Campbell, CESA CEO, at the Presidential Address.

“When I delivered my presidential address this time last year, I had little idea of what was to come in 2020 – the unprecedented trials and tribulations that would face our industry, our country, and our global society,” Pillay began. “However, my words then, 12 months ago, were more apt than I could have imagined. You might remember, I said: ‘We are certainly in a period of great change. In times such as these, there is always uncertainty as to how events may unfold and a certain amount of trepidation as to what the change may entail, and what the future may hold.’ This was before Covid-19 reached our shores.”

However, Pillay said that despite the uncertainty and trepidation, South Africa is facing these economic and social challenges with resilience and determination. He cited the South African Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan, which has created some much-needed optimism for the consulting engineering industry. “Despite the hardships facing our country – hardships we cannot expect to dissipate soon – CESA remains committed to improving the business landscape and playing our part in creating an environment conducive to procurement and shaping the required talent to see that our country’s developmental goals are met. We aim to mould our industry of consulting engineers to ensure we continue to protect lives through quality and safe infrastructure, and protect livelihoods through the creation of economic opportunities for the wider construction value chain,” he said.

Reflecting on the past year, Pillay said CESA had made progress in strengthening the relationship between government and the private sector, showcased by the association’s involvement in the Sustainable Infrastructure Development Symposium South Africa in June last year. “However, it has become clear that South Africa still faces many of the same challenges as in prior years, with the demise of public decision-making processes, a lack of checks and balances within procurement systems, and a loss of accountability among those tasked with leading change.” He mentioned President Ramaphosa’s laborious efforts to curb corruption, and the poor results from the 2020 Auditor-General’s report as examples. ”We also face continuously delayed infrastructure delivery, and those projects which do see progress are hampered by obstructions from the so-called construction mafia.”

However, Pillay chose to highlight the good rather than dwell on the negative. He said the past year showed a greater focus on people rather than profit. “As compassion and empathy gained momentum amid the public health crisis, we are now seeing an industry of people who act with more care for others, and we hope this spirit of ubuntu continues through 2021 as we stand together. Ultimately this spirit of ubuntu and caretaking is what CESA aims to promote to industry – to protect lives and livelihoods, and consider the tangible social and economic outcomes of our work.”


Unpacking the 2021 theme, Pillay said that as we rebuild the consulting engineering industry should contribute where it can, go beyond the call of duty, and work with the state to address issues around resources and governance.

He also presented opportunities which could be leveraged to strengthen the industry and economy.

  • Greater community involvement in the development of infrastructure, new and maintained, for the benefit of end users as well as the creation of jobs.
  • A decentralised approach to spatial planning and development, spurred by the decreased emphasis on metros due to remote work and teleconferencing.
  • Increased attention to agriculture and surrounding services, as the agriculture sector is performing well and surrounding areas are prime for development.
  • Greater focus on maintenance, which is vital due to the poor performance of our infrastructure, as highlighted in the recent SAICE Infrastructure Report Card.

“For rebuilding to happen effectively, we need collaboration between all spheres of government. We need coordination between all role players, and we need to partner to build state capacity and ensure the necessary skills development takes place.” He highlighted the recent emphasis on professionalisation of the public service and said that CESA is ready to support this initiative.


“In our efforts to rebuild, let us maintain our focus and purpose on doing so with quality and integrity. If we are truly to save lives and livelihoods, we must operate with an unwavering focus on value, reliability and sustainability.” CESA’s emphasis on quality has been further highlighted by the new mandated management systems for CESA members based on international standards for quality, integrity and sustainability. This demonstrates CESA’s commitment to accountability, which Pillay said he hopes to see reflected in public sector spheres.

He also mentioned the Draft Public Procurement Bill which has seen industry lobby for a more transparent procurement process with decentralised authority structures to ensure the necessary checks and balances are in place. “CESA calls on policymakers to listen to the voices of industry and ensure the bill promotes integrity, localisation, transparency and accountability,” he said.

Finally, Pillay suggested an “immune booster” in South Africa’s recovery plan: “The identified Sustainable Infrastructure Projects will play a decisive role in economic recovery. If we can get a few selected projects off the ground early, this will give impetus to the programme, providing reassurance to the public and encouraging investment confidence in South Africa.”

Looking to industry developments, Pillay mentioned the upcoming CESA Annual Infrastructure Indaba, the FIDIC Africa Infrastructure Conference, and the newly formed Construction Alliance South Africa (CASA) as key in creating constructive engagements and industry coordination.


In conclusion, Pillay said CESA is committed to contributing to effective and sustainable solutions, and will continue to guide its members and the industry at large towards more transparent and prosperous infrastructure delivery processes. “Every person in South Africa stands to benefit from this goal which would see improved use of taxpayers’ money, an appropriately capacitated state, and the delivery of safe and reliable national infrastructure offering a strong foundation for further economic growth. However, as Minister of Public Works and Infrastructure, Patricia de Lille said at our Infrastructure Indaba last year: ‘We need to start implementing, the patience of our people is running out!’ The preservation and deepening of our precious democracy will depend entirely on the success of our recovery.”

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