The invitation by Gauteng Infrastructure Development MEC Jacob Mamabolo to voluntary association Consulting Engineers South Africa (Cesa) at Cesa’s seventh annual Infrastructure Indaba, to sign a memorandum of understanding (MoU) is expected to spur the provision of quality-based consulting engineering services and drive a change in procurement practices behaviour for local infrastructure projects.
Cesa aimed to increase dialogue at its flagship event – held last month at the Southern Sun hotel at OR Tambo International Airport, in Gauteng – through shorter presentations followed by panel discussions.
Mamabolo invited the consulting engineering industry, during the Indaba, to enter into a partnership with the Gauteng provincial government, specifically the Department of Infrastructure Development, to support it in maximising its capital- intensive infrastructure investments. Cesa expects that the MoU will be signed this month.
“An important facet of the MoU will be to solve the prominent issue of the procurement of professional services being commoditised. It will allow for the imple- mentation of professional procurement processes that are appropriate for professional services – deriving maximum benefit from infrastructure investment cost effectively, but without compromising on quality,” says Cesa CEO Chris Campbell.
The proposed MoU will bring about closer coopera- tion between the consulting engineering industry and provincial government regarding infrastructure planning, assist it in understanding the challenges and provide potential solutions. The industry aims to play an advisory role, providing the provincial government with insight in areas where it lacks capacity, such as municipali- ties, where there is often a scarcity of engineering practitioners.
Campbell warns that the prevalent process of pursuing the cheapest options or forcing professional services to discount their fees reduces quality and/or discourages competent organisations from bidding for projects. Moreover, this is not actually a cost- effective method, as it ultimately manifests in higher total costs of ownership in the long term because constant maintenance is required over the infrastructure’s life span.
He posits that this problem can be attributed to inadequate knowledge in government procurement departments, manifesting in a simplistic approach to procurement that does not account for total cost of ownership and lacks an understanding of infrastructure.
Therefore, the MoU will facilitate the transfer of knowledge on the procurement of quality infrastructure that is cost effective, and lasts for its intended life span, which will ultimately drive down costs.
Subsequently, this will reduce reliance on the national fiscus, as less money will need to be spent on infrastructure in the long term. Campbell is hopeful that the country can still meet the infrastructure requirements set out in the National Development Plan if funds for infrastructure projects are spent correctly and efficiently, and corruption “is taken out of the equation”.
“Through Cesa’s member companies, we want to partner with government in developing competent internal capacity to ensure that it has the resources to protect its interests and that of the country. The consulting engineering industry has this capacity to offer to government that will create a win-win situation enabling the delivery of ‘value for money’ investment in infrastructure on an ongoing basis.”
This is the only sustainable way of ensuring a smooth ongoing infrastructure process as opposed to highly concentrated infrastructure investment followed by lulls, which was characteristic of the past, he notes.
Cesa is striving to create a steady state for the industry through proper planning. “We shouldn’t aspire to have everything done in five years, and then have way too little infrastructure development in the following five years. While there will never be a steady stream of projects, the peaks and troughs that we are currently experiencing are far too extreme,” he emphasises.
In addition to the MoU, the Indaba also focused on water security with reference to the role of the client, infrastructure and consulting engineers.
The event also focused on transformation that extends beyond merely meeting the requirements of the construction sector’s black economic-empowerment scorecard. Campbell notes that striving for deeper transformation is an important imperative for Cesa. There- fore, Cesa is encouraging businesses to better leverage their diversity. “Industry is still largely white-male domi- nated, which is challenging, because this requires more than simply bringing on board shareholders – it requires competent practising engineers, but there is a shortage of these across all demographics,” states Campbell.
He emphasises the need to consider the ways through which industry can develop competent engineers through education, with a longer-term view that encompasses supporting black learners who have the aptitude to succeed at university level in engineering, but have little or no means to do so.
Campbell also highlights ethical leadership, for which much hope is held out in the current political climate in South Africa, as a key message to have emerged from the Indaba.