Operations and maintenance service contracts are imperative to ensure the sustainable operation and maintenance practices of existing and future infrastructure, as they can strengthen maintenance provision activities, voluntary association Consulting Engineers South Africa (Cesa) CEO Lefadi Makibinyane notes.
“Strategic partnerships regarding the contracts must be formed between local government – including municipalities – and the private sector to achieve the necessary maintenance requirements, he adds, emphasising that entities such as the National Roads Agency of South Africa, with its continuous maintenance programmes, are well suited to providing such services.
Makibinyane believes that, as these contracts can be agreed upon for a minimum period of five years to a maximum period of 20 years, it can significantly assist the municipalities and provincial governments in their work.
“Once infrastructure has been completed, it must be followed by operational and maintenance contracts and – if implemented in a significantly strategic manner – it can also create additional market opportunities, such as encouraging further investment and stimulating job creation.”
He also suggests that infrastructure plans, such as the National Development Plan and the Presidential Infrastructure Coordinating Commission’s 18 Strategic Integrated Projects, should continue, but stresses that operations and maintenance contracts – including preventive maintenance provision – should be established from the date of commissioning.
Owing to the plethora of statutory demands that municipalities need to manage, their focus on providing sufficient maintenance often shifts, while the private sector can focus on operations and maintenance demands, Makibinyane posits.
There is significant demand for operations and maintenance contracts to ensure continuous service delivery and to avoid and mitigate infrastructure disrepair, he says, adding that this approach forms part of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Pravin Gordhan’s call for a back-to-basics approach in making provision for maintenance.
The Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs was considering introducing legislation to incentivise positive behaviour among municipalities, Gordhan said during his 2014/15 Budget Vote speech to Parliament in September.
Engineering News reported that positive behaviour would include ensuring a minimum maintenance allocation of 7% and undertaking reviews of implementation capabilities, as well as implementing ten-year infrastructure plans on a regional basis, with additional support to “ensure that municipalities developed new infrastructure at a faster pace while adhering to the relevant standards”.
In addition, departmental support aims to enable municipalities to improve the operation and maintenance of existing infrastructure to ensure continuity of service provision.
Maintenance allocation is key to the necessary provisions that should be made to support infrastructure development, as well as to mitigating the current maintenance backlog in South Africa in several sectors, Makibinyane says.
He emphasises that, if current maintenance issues are not tackled, the country’s development and service demands will exacerbate the backlog, with the country “forever . . . playing the catch-up role”.
Makibinyane believes that, although there is an apparent lack of maintenance provision, funding and internal capacity from the public sector to provide maintenance services, there is no lack of capacity in the country to provide these services.
He reiterates that operations and maintenance services should be viewed and implemented as integrated contracts, as operators will have better knowledge of the maintenance requirements and can create preventive maintenance opportunities.
However, separating these services into fragmented contracts can result in a greater tendency towards reactive maintenance, he warns.
The Consulting Engineer’s Role
Makibinyane notes that consulting engineers, as part of the infrastructure value chain, can advise on and plan maintenance provision initiatives as part of a life-cycle approach for infrastructure.
“Certain portions of planning and costing should be allocated to the operations and maintenance contracts, particularly contracts that are sound, in sync with economies of scale and supported by the warrantees provided by original-equipment manufacturers,” he says.
Moreover, provision will be calculated as part of the total life-cycle cost of the project, he says, emphasising that, in implementing the back-to-basics approach, industry and municipalities must focus on the value chain approach and re-evaluate procurement strategies of professional services at different stages of the value chain.
As service procurement differs in its design, construction, operations and maintenance phases, and the value chain approach supports a visionary strategy for the public sector to be robust in its engagement with the different partners required for these phases, Makibinyane concludes, more enhanced service delivery standards will subsequently be achieved in South Africa.