State of the Nation Address 2014: Making the radical transformation

The first State of the Nation Address for the fifth term of office of the ANC-led government, which was presented by President Jacob Zuma on June 17, maintained the consistencies of the ruling party on the fundamentals towards economic growth that is meant to eradicate poverty, unemployment and inequalities through the National Development Plan (NDP).
 
The address was delivered soon after the revised sovereign economic rating of the country by Standard & Poor from BBB (-); while Fitch only provided caution by changing its outlook to negative from stable, raising the risk of a downgrade from Fitch.
 
Both rating agencies based their negativity on their lack of confidence in the government’s ability to tackle the country’s deeply rooted structural problems. The structural nature of the South African economy is rooted in the mining, financial services, agriculture, and manufacturing sectors.
 
However, the NDP provides for the fundamental change of this historic dependence of the national economy. It starts making aggressive inroads towards industrialisation through the needed supply of the materials towards infrastructure development. This is as the nation embarks on a new built programme towards upgrades of national roads through SANRAL; locomotive fleet acquisition by Transnet and PRASA; railway line development; ports construction; power stations development by Eskom, water infrastructure development by TCTA, Rand Water and other water boards; and the rollout of broadband for advancement of information communication technology.
 
Undoubtedly, there is increasing activity in the national infrastructure development space, and indeed the NDP is fully under way as the aforementioned state-owned entities discharge their duties as mandated implementing agents of these significant projects that are classified under the strategic integrated programmes and placed under the responsibility of the Presidential Infrastructure Coordination Committee (PICC).
 
However, it would be more prudent of the PICC secretariat to provide regular reporting to the public about the progress of the SIPs to dispel the notion that this is just lip service. Visibility and transparency as to how work is awarded by the implementing agents is important to boost investor confidence.
 
As the CEO of CESA, I wish that the government would appoint consulting engineering firms to the panel of consulting engineers in the relevant infrastructure departments to provide immediate capacity to assist in planning and design of infrastructure projects.
 
As a result of the government clearly lacking the internal technical/ engineering capacity to especially plan, design, specify, evaluate and adjudicate infrastructure projects, CESA makes a strong call for the appointment of consulting engineers in the panel arrangement systems.
 
The advantages provided by this include, but are not limited to, state capacity issues becoming a thing of the past; local built engineering professionals (BEPs), especially consulting engineering firms, becoming fully utilised; and encouraging innovative solutions to cost-effective infrastructure development. Further, the public sector must gradually build its own technical capacity from the historical disadvantaged individuals that will be trained from the BEP (which includes consulting engineering for all future references in this piece), consulting engineering membership panels.
 
This method of engagement with the BEPs must be aligned to the NDP 2030 Vision and only be made applicable for that duration, as an aggressive strategy by the government to train and develop its own technical capacity of the BEPs’ skills. In the meantime, the locally based BEPs will have to work on their own strategies to reduce dependence on government work; diversify work beyond the borders of South Africa and to the world; increase export services out of South Africa; earn foreign capital for the country; and increase the local content in capital goods and services in projects and investments that are executed offshore by South African companies.
 
The current method of procuring the BEPs’ services is flawed in every respect, and, if not reviewed and repealed, will continuously compromise the National Infrastructure Plan and the NDP.
 
Its worst effect is that it will ultimately kill the BEPs that are already battling to attract the youth into taking these professions as careers of choice. 
 
The current method of procurement uses the criteria of price (as a primary selection criteria). The BEP requires professional skills informed by years of learning, choice of mathematics and physical science at school; and studying for engineering at the universities, technical universities and further education training colleges. Finally, there is experiential training and professional development at BEP firms, which ultimately results in one registering as a professional engineer, technologist or technician.
 
More of the high-calibre professionals in the BEPs, particularly the engineering consultant, provide the competitive advantage of the nation.
 
Lefadi Makibinyane, CEO at CESA
As published in built magazine, June/July 2014