South Africa is facing demand for economic growth; it is, therefore, critical that government considers collaborating with the private sector in primary infrastructure megaprojects that will yield almost immediate gross domestic product growth, says professional services firm WSP|Parsons Brinckerhoff transport and infrastructure divisional director Vishaal Lutchman.
“There is currently significant hype around infrastructure projects in South Africa . . . and this is largely related to government’s National Infrastructure Plan (NIP) and related Strategic Infrastructure Projects (Sips). There are, however, a number of challenges related to getting these Sips out of the planning phase and into the implementation phase,” he points out.
Although Lutchman believes that recognition should be given to the Department of Energy for the successful implementation of the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme to date, several key aspects regarding the NIP and Sips require clarity, actionable planning and its subsequent implementation.
The Presidential Infrastructure Coordinating Commission launched the NIP in 2012 to define the challenges and enablers which South Africa needs to respond to in planning and developing enabling infrastructure that fosters economic growth.
Based on this, 18 Sips were developed and approved to support economic development and address service delivery in the poorest provinces. There are five geographically focused Sips, three spatial, three energy and three social infrastructure Sips, two knowledge Sips, and one regional integration, and one water as well as sanitation Sip.
Lutchman highlights that two crucial elements that have a direct impact on this growing
backlog of projects in the pipeline are capital availability and capacity planning. These pertain to financial capital to fund projects and skilled human capacity in important spheres of the public sector responsible for planning and in the private sector.
“We need leadership that drives project implementation to realise the growth potential of the country. Vast amounts of planning have been done in the recent past, so what remains is the implementation.”
He mentions that, although funding always remains a challenge, this presents an opportunity for the public sector to engage the private sector and also receive support from development finance institu- tions. Effective leadership that leads with integrity will . . . attain the support of labour. With a resultant increase in productivity, economic growth is inevitable.
Commenting on skills development as one of the challenges facing infrastructure development in the country and in the rest of the continent, Lutchman notes that Africa faces a significant shortage of experienced and capable engineers – in government, where projects need to be planned and committed to, and in the private sector, where delivery needs to be executed.
Although having these skills in-country is the ideal objective in the long term, the private sector’s planning and developing the local skills pipeline effectively depends on a clear indication of the projects that will be implemented and a solid commitment from governments to ensure their execution.
Owing to this, Lutchman suggests that, in the short term, South Africa’s collaboration with neighbouring African countries will better position the public and private sectors to assess the skills available and which skills might have to be sourced through foreign avenues.