Public Works Minister Thulas Nxesi on Wednesday appealed to the private construction sector technical professionals to partner with government to help the Department of Public Works (DPW) improve.
Speaking at the Construction Industry Development Board (CIDB) national stakeholder forum, held in Kempton Park, he said that over the past few years, the department had failed to respond to the challenges the construction industry faced.
The department required technically skilled professionals to run it, Nxesi said, adding that currently, those skills could only be sourced from the private sector.
He also called on the CIDB to approach industry and attempt to draw the required skills into the public sector “even if only for a year” to whip the department into shape. Nxesi added that there would be an attempt to match private sector salaries.
He argued that an ineffective department negatively impacted on industry, citing undercapacity, poor management, so-called tenderpreneurs, corruption, collusion, lack of support for emerging contractors, lack of financial control such as misappropriation of funds, underspending and late payments, as well as lack of skills and inadequate job creation as contributors to the decline of the sector.
“We need skills in the department to deliver the industry you want,” he said, addressing the forum of construction specialists.
Nxesi stated that delays in addressing challenges were a result of the lack of guidance from the DPW and that, currently, the DPW would not be able to deliver on its mandate. The mitigation of many challenges would continue to be delayed in the short term as the department attempted a turnaround, but he stresses the department “will be there for industry”.
He noted that many policies, amended legislation or regulations and documents would not be approved just “for the sake of signing” them off. Given the historical issues of the department, policies and regulations would be fully considered.
“DPW is known for scandals and to turn the department around, we need to scrutinise everything,” he pointed out.
He invited industry to share the challenges and issues and what the department could do to rectify them to the benefit of South Africa.
He further stated that corruption would need to be dealt with at both a political level and by the business sector, as corrupt officials were being enticed by businesses.
The DPW has also withdrawn the lease and contract signing privileges of officials, following the identification of a number of irregularities.
To date, 22 lease contracts valued at R64-million were found to be irregular and the department was in the process of opening civil and criminal cases against officials and businesses, and more were expected.
Meanwhile, the CIDB was working on amending the contractor registration regulations, which had emerged as a key issue for stakeholders during a number of nationwide forums over the past six months.
The proposed amended regulation was currently tabled with the Public Works Minister, but was expected to be published for comment by the end of July.
The amendments target concerns such as, besides others, costly employment of qualified registered professionals in grades 6, 7, 8 and 9; onerous requirements for financial capability; steep transition requirements to higher grades 7 and 8; registration fees; and downgrading.
It was expected that the amendments would improve the register and align registration requirements with the business and operating environment in the construction industry.
Contractor development was identified as another concern for industry, particularly the role the CIDB played in developing contractors.
The industry requested that CIDB promote partnerships in contractor development; invest registration fees in training; prohibit large contractors from competing with emerging contractors for small projects; monitor and evaluate contractor development; and prevent subcontractor exploitation by large contractors.
The development board was also targeting several other issues raised, such as the construction procurement environment, and has set a timeline for their resolution.