Infrastructure bottleneck weakens consulting engineering sector

The third South African Institution of Civil Engineering (SAICE) Infrastructure Report Card (IRC) gives South Africa’s state-owned infrastructure an overall grade of D+.

According to the SAICE IRC, South Africa has achieved remarkable strides in the past twenty years. It has provided water to approximately 11 million citizens at a pace unrivalled in history, as well as electricity and sanitation, for which government deserves recognition. However, maintenance of existing infrastructure and provision of new infrastructure require regular investment by Government to ensure continued growth in service delivery.

The damning report cautions that efficient maintenance of infrastructure is critical. If infrastructure is mismanaged through a lack of maintenance, the functional life-span will decline. Roads will deteriorate and the cost of repair can be up to six times more expensive. The lives of people in smaller towns are negatively impacted when, for example, water purification works and sewage plants are in disrepair, as residents are without access to clean water and proper sanitation and are then exposed to health risks.

The report reveals that there is a clear link between well-maintained public infrastructure and the social and economic health of a country. 

Consulting Engineers South Africa (CESA) welcomes the diagnostic IRC but is concerned about the current under-maintained infrastructure as reported. CESA regards infrastructure development as being key to service delivery, as well as an employment enabler and a catalyst for economic growth and transformation of the historically disadvantaged individuals, who were excluded from meaningful participation in the country’s economy.

CESA has for a number of years been availing itself and the services of its over 540 member firms employing over 23 000 people to assist Government in delivering and maintaining this much needed infrastructure. “As a voluntary organisation we have for many years been actively pursuing a relationship whereby we partner with Government and key stakeholders in the industry to work together in overcoming the challenges of effective infrastructure maintenance and development,” says CESA CEO Chris Campbell.

“Our efforts to partner have met with some resistance and consequently the survival of companies within the Consulting Engineering industry is now seriously being threatened by the lack of effective Government expenditure on infrastructure,” cautions Campbell.

With very few infrastructure projects flowing out of the “project pipeline” and a corresponding reduction in the volume of work for the industry, the viability and continued existence of Consulting Engineering organisations is at risk. Without sufficient work, the firms are becoming unsustainable and cannot afford to retain the highly skilled and experience engineers necessary to ensure growth in South Africa. 

In addition, the consulting engineering profession has been faced with a myriad of challenges impacting negatively on the industry ranging from the downgrading of the country’s investment status; concerns about financing and the investment in, and the maintenance of, infrastructure; ever-increasing civil protests about service delivery; escalating to concerns about “state capture” and the implications that all of this will have on the economic outlook of South Africa. Through all of this, consulting engineering firms have to remain resilient and sustain themselves in a highly competitive market.

“It is important that we continue to support and partner with Government to enable improved and sustainable service delivery. We believe that partnerships are vital to achieving progress and that by working together we can achieve great things to improve the quality of the lives of our people,” concludes Campbell.