Taking legal action against the Engineering Council of South Africa (ECSA) and Public Works Minister Thulas Nxesi was a last resort in attempts to have the current ECSA council suspended, South African Institution of Civil Engineering (Saice) CEO Manglin Pillay told Engineering News Online on Tuesday.
Last week Engineering News Online reported that Saice and other voluntary associations falling under the umbrella of ECSA had applied to the High Court in Pretoria to have the council suspended owing to concerns over the legitimacy of the new council, which was appointed by the Minister in July 2016.
In a media briefing on Tuesday, Saice stated that the court action arose from alleged irregularities in the appointment of ECSA’s current council, where changes were made – without the legally required consultation – to the outgoing council’s approved list of proposed members for the new council that it submitted to the Minister.
The Engineering Profession Act, No 46 of 2000 (EPA) requires the Public Works Minister to consult with the outgoing council if there are insufficient nominations.
“There were 46 names and four vacancies in the list approved by the council last March,” Pillay said on Tuesday.
He explained that the court papers allege that the final list of council members to be considered by the Minister in September comprised 49 individuals with one vacancy – meaning six people on the ECSA approved list were removed without consultation.
“We started a consultation process with ECSA, the Council for the Built Environment and the Department of Public Works (DPW) in August last year and still have not been able to come to an amicable solution, which is why we are forced to go the legal route,” Pillay stated.
He added that ECSA’s role was vital to the quality of engineering infrastructure services, as it registers engineering practitioners and regulates their practice, as well as accredits education and training programmes in various fields of engineering – ensuring high standards and global recognition.
“By undermining the quality of oversight of engineering practitioners in South Africa, the entire pipeline of engineering infrastructure services, manufacturing and production will be at risk,” he stressed, adding that this could potentially result in the health and safety of the public being placed in jeopardy.”
Fellow voluntary association Consulting Engineers South Africa CEO Chris Campbell added during the media briefing on Tuesday that allegations of compromised good governance, the lack of consultation with affected industries, and the questionable integrity of the appointments under the guise of transformation would erode the profession and impact on industry both locally and internationally.
“Our citizens deserve to experience less flooding, and fewer bridge or roof collapses, not more,” he said.
Campbell added that South African consultants work extensively globally and specifically in neighbouring States.
International accreditation through the Sydney, Dublin and Washington Accords is dependent on a substantial peer review system for professional registration with ECSA.
“[ECSA] allegedly [plans to] dissolve the extensive peer review system and [will] consequently compromise the recognition of professionally registered engineering practitioners internationally – as it is a prerequisite for being a signatory to these accords,” he said.
Industry players who have joined the court action say the lack of integrity in the new ECSA council appointment process has opened the door for individuals who are unknown to the industry, and who now have undue influence over the profession.
“Senior industry professionals caution that ECSA is at risk of diluting the peer review mechanism . . . [which] is [also] a prerequisite for South Africa retaining its recognition by the International Engineering Alliance,” Campbell reiterated.
He added that, of particular concern in this regard, is the new council’s aim to disband many of ECSA’s registration-related committees – undermining quality assurance and rigour in the professional registration process.
Meanwhile, former Saice president and ECSA volunteer Seetella Makhetha said the new council was being misled to marginalise the voluntary associations, who play an integral role in the professional registration process and the various committee functions at ECSA.
“This imperative to achieve a synergistic role between voluntary associations and ECSA that bodes well for the nation’s delivery of safe engineering services, is in jeopardy.
“With the work being managed and controlled dominantly by the ECSA administration, the professionals and learned societies that have been around for over 100 years and that are the centre of learned activity, are being relegated and disregarded,” he said.
ECSA, on Tuesday issued a statement, saying it was undeterred by the allegations made by Saice.
It stated that the council nomination procedure was done in accordance with the requirements of Section 4 of the EPA.
“As a statutory council that regulates and registers engineering practitioners, ECSA’s mandate is subdued to the DPW, which upholds the legislative authority for the built environment in its entirety. ECSA is the second respondent in this matter,” the industry body said in a statement.
ECSA said it would not comment further until the court ruled on the matter.