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Construction industry encouraged by infrastructure development progress

21 February 2023

There is still a long way to go, with Saice suggesting that government ‘sensitise’ decision makers to the importance of economic and social infrastructure, according to an article published in Moneyweb.

South Africa’s construction industry is encouraged by the progress being made with the implementation of infrastructure projects and the plans to professionalise the public service.

President Cyril Ramaphosa said in his State of the Nation Address (Sona) last week the government’s infrastructure build programme is gaining pace through the work of the Infrastructure Fund and Infrastructure South Africa, which has been established to support strategic infrastructure projects. “By January this year, projects worth R232 billion were under construction and projects worth nearly R4 billion had been completed,” said Ramaphosa. “The completed projects include new human settlements in Gauteng, road upgrades and the development of small harbours.

“In a major development, the South African National Roads Agency (Sanral) has awarded road construction contracts worth R18 billion over the last three months. This investment will substantially benefit the construction industry and enable large-scale job creation, skills development and poverty relief, especially in nearby rural communities,” the president said.

Ramaphosa acknowledged that the lack of technical skills and project management capacity is one of the greatest obstacles to infrastructure investment, adding that to fix this, Infrastructure SA has been allocated R600 million for project preparation, specifically in rural and under-resourced areas.

“The support and planning mechanisms that we have put in place over several years are now starting to bear fruit in increased public investment in infrastructure,” he said.

Master Builders South Africa (MBSA) executive director Roy Mnisi welcomed Ramaphosa’s statements, particularly about the expansion of infrastructure programmes, including many water and sanitation projects and various roads and energy projects that will assist the construction sector to get work.

This is a reference to Ramaphosa stating that to ensure water security now and into the future, the Department of Water and Sanitation is leading the process of investing in major infrastructure projects across the country.

Ramaphosa said full-scale construction works for the Lesotho Highlands Phase Two project will commence this year, after being delayed for several years. He said the Lesotho Highlands project is critical for ensuring security of water supply to Gauteng, Free State, Mpumalanga, North West and Northern Cape.

Ramaphosa added that the first phase of the Umzimvubu Water Project will start in the next financial year, several decades after it was first proposed and nine years after a sod-turning ceremony was held. He said this phase involves the construction of the Ntabelanga Dam, irrigation infrastructure and the distribution of water to communities, and will be financed by the government.

Ramaphosa said the next phase will be the construction of the Lilane Dam, which will include a hydro power station. “Major projects to increase the capacity of the Clanwilliam Dam, Hazelmere Dam and the Tzaneen Dam will improve the supply of water to the West Coast, eThekwini and the eastern part of Limpopo,” he added.

Mnisi said it is positive that Ramaphosa acknowledged that government does not possess all the required technical skills to fully implement infrastructure investments.

“To that end, the construction industry has always opened its doors and says to government: ‘Here we are. We have got a lot of engineers who can assist, we have got a lot of project managers … that can assist the government’.”

Still some shortcomings

Mnisi said MBSA is aware of the recent award of projects, such as the those by Sanral, but indicated that not all the projects that were planned have happened. “There are still some shortcomings here and there. There is a need to deal with capacity [issues] and I believe the Infrastructure Fund and Infrastructure South Africa will be able to support the programme and ensure there are systems in place to assist government to achieve those strategic infrastructure project goals.

“However, that cannot work if government continues to work alone without bringing in the industry itself, particularly private sector construction companies, to assist in achieving those goals,” he said.

SA Forum of Civil Engineering Contractors (Safcec) CEO Webster Mfebe said the president’s statements about infrastructure development are “good news for the industry, which has been depressed for quite some time”.

‘Pool of experienced engineers’

Mfebe is also encouraged by Ramaphosa’s acknowledgement of the lack of skills and capacity to project-manage mega projects, which is critical to the success of the quick implementation of these projects.

“He has been vocal about this issue and I know he will do something about it. From a civil engineering construction industry point of view, we extend our hand to the president and government to ensure that with our pool of experienced engineers, including retired engineers who are good in the practical implementation of civil engineer projects, to work with the government,” he said.

Mfebe appealed to Ramaphosa and the government to pay special attention to the plight of black contractors. He said they are perpetually under mentorship and subcontracting arrangements, without ever being given substantive projects in their own right, which in turn precipitates a feeling of being neglected and sidelined.

Consulting Engineers South Africa (Cesa) CEO Chris Campbell

Consulting Engineers South Africa (Cesa) CEO Chris Campbell said Cesa is pleased its voice is being heard with the imminent finalisation of the Public Procurement Bill, to address weaknesses identified by the state aimed at improving efficiency, value for money and transparency in the procurement system.

He said Cesa is pleased with the continued focus by government on professionalising the public service, adding that staffing the public service with skilled, committed and ethical people is critical to an effective state and ending corruption, patronage and wastage.

“While we agree we need all hands on deck to deal with the macro infrastructure issues, such as energy and water security, we need to simultaneously accelerate the pace of fixing our micro infrastructure delivery systems,” said Campbell.

He added that even if the country gets enough power onto the grid or water from other sources, there will not be any electricity or water for the people if the local power distribution systems are unreliable or municipal water distribution systems do not work.

The SA Institution of Civil Engineering (Saice) acknowledged “the positive sentiments” expressed by Ramaphosa in the Sona, but questioned how this will effect implementation and change.

Saice said there is no easy fix for government to improve the country’s economy and infrastructure status.

It suggested the government needs to:

  • Increase investment in infrastructure from 13.7% of GDP in 2020 to at least 30% by 2030;
  • Reduce habitual underspending of infrastructure budgets by those public service providers who are “not held accountable, [and] prone to service delivery failures, poor governance, weak institutional capacity, and instability”;
  • Introduce revised procurement regulations to minimise the recurring “revenue management failures”;
  • Sensitise decision makers in national, provincial and local government infrastructure departments and state-owned companies to the importance of economic and social infrastructure and the dire consequences when the maintenance of infrastructure is neglected and renewal or replacement is delayed;
  • Provide assistance to decision makers and their support teams in the built environment to persuade them about the importance of maintenance and life cycle planning; and
  • Encourage the decision makers to enhance the capacity within their infrastructure departments by highlighting the role of the civil engineering profession in service delivery through the planning, design, construction, operation and maintenance of infrastructure.

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