Consulting Engineers – not a Commodity but Trusted Advisor

Consulting Engineers South Africa (CESA) President Abe Thela says that consulting engineering services are neither a commodity nor contracting. Thela states that consulting engineers provide independent advice to clients, offer technical advice in the procurement of contractors as well as design and supervision of construction work. “This role can only be played by a ‘trusted advisor’”.

In clarifying his point, he points out that a commodity is a useful thing, an article of trade, a product, a raw material, primary agricultural product that can be bought or sold, such as copper or coffee. In economics, a commodity is a marketable item produced to satisfy wants and needs.

While a contractor is an independent entity that agrees to furnish certain number or quantity of goods, material, equipment, personnel, and/or services that meet or exceed stated requirements or specifications, at a mutually agreed upon price and within a specified timeframe to another independent entity called a project owner (employer).

Engineering and construction work is a provision of a combination of goods and services arranged for the development and provision of an asset or refurbishment of an existing asset, including building and engineering infrastructure.

Thela states that consulting engineers provide independent advice to clients, offer technical advice in the procurement of contractors as well as design and supervision of construction work.

“This role can only be played by a ‘trusted advisor’. Consulting engineers are designers who create infrastructure projects that generate employment opportunities for millions of unskilled, semi-skilled and skilled workers improving the quality of life of citizens. This impacts positively on inequity and contributes to economic growth, stimulates the development of other economic sectors and attracts foreign investment, he said during the Gauteng Presidential visit.

He stressed that price is not an appropriate basis for competing for consulting engineering services because it reduces the profession to a commodity which is demand driven and compromises the ability of the profession to innovate, train staff and attract young engineers to the profession.

“The price driven procurement of consulting engineering services commodify consulting engineering services and relegates the relationship from that of “Trusted Advisor” status to “contracting”. This encourages business survival strategies associated with contracting such as variation orders for any additional work not part of the original appointment - which threatens the sustainability of the sector and has a negative impact in terms of the provision of infrastructure. The current procurement environment is complex and politically sensitive and must be treated with due care, and urgency it so much deserves, cautioned Thela.

CESA proposes the reintroduction of quality as part of the total procurement point’s calculation alongside price and Broad Based Black Economic Empowerment – Construction Industry Development Board Method 4for routine projects as well as the separation of procurement of Built Environment Professional (BEPs) from the procurement of general goods and services.

He added that CESA also proposes that BEPs’ services are designated as local because it will encourage the use of local companies over international companies without a presence in South Africa, which will contributes to the growth and development of the sector.