The South African Institution of Civil Engineering (Saice) on March 3 submitted an application to the High Court to have the current council members of the Engineering Council of South Africa (ECSA) suspended.
Saice CEO Manglin Pillay has told Engineering News that a number of voluntary associations (VAs) within the engineering fraternity have expressed concern over the legitimacy of the new council, which was appointed by Public Works Minister Thulas Nxesi in July 2016.
In December, nine VAs, who are ECSA members, submitted their concerns to both ECSA and the Minister, but there has been no response.
In a response to emailed questions from Engineering News, the Department of Public Works (DPW) said that it had received “the grievance of disgruntled ECSA members, [some] of which are those who were not reappointed to the [council]”.
“The Minister and Deputy Minister Deon Viljoen have looked into the matter and the outcome of the investigation will be made known to the affected parties in due course,” the statement read.
In response to the allegations, ECSA provided Engineering News with a briefing update in which it is stated that the council nomination procedure was done in accordance with the requirements of Section 4 of the Engineering Profession Act.
The current council was inaugurated in September 2016.
The update says the appointments were made by Nxesi following recommendations from the outgoing council, which would seem to have been done in accordance with legislative requirements.
However, according to the Engineering Profession Act, the appointment of the ECSA council entails the outgoing council submitting a list of 50 nominees, as well as an unspecified number of ‘reserves’, to the DPW, following which the Minister will approve or change the list before sending it back to ECSA.
The Minister has the authority to replace nominees with those on the reserve list, provided consultation with ECSA and its members takes place, which Pillay stated did not take place in this instance.
He explains that, in March 2016, the outgoing council submitted a list comprising 46 names and four vacancies. However, the approved list, with 49 names and one vacancy, had nine changes, six of the names being additions not on ECSA’s reserve list, resulting in the exclusion from consideration of “competent people who have a positive record in the industry”.
ECSA’s briefing update stated: “The Minister has appointed a transformed council, which reflects an improved representation of women, youth, technologists, technicians, certificated engineers and engineers within specified categories.
“The Minister did not consult with the [outgoing] council to make these [six] additions . . . making the process faulty, the appointments unlawful, the new council illegitimate and the work of the council unrecognisable,” said Pillay.
He added that, if the council is found to be illegitimate, any engineers that have received certification from ECSA will also be deemed illegitimate.
Meanwhile, in August 2016, a number of VAs submitted a memorandum to the Council for the Built Environment (CBE) outlining their concerns over the validity of the new council.
In September, shortly after the current ECSA council was appointed by the Minister, the CBE released the provisional findings of its investigations into the council appointment process. In the report, the CBE found that Nxesi did not consult the outgoing ECSA council and that the final appointments were made “without apparent rationale”.
Further, the report noted that the requirement of transparency in the appointment process “seems not to have been fulfilled, given the lack of consultation between the Minister and the [outgoing] ECSA council”.
In the report, the CBE advised that the “DPW and, in the process, the Minister, be advised to suspend the appointment of the new ECSA council, pending consideration of all the facts in light of the allegations made”.
The CBE sent the report to DPW director-general Mziwonke Dlabantu, who responded to CBE chairperson Isaac Nkosi stating that he had conferred with Nxesi on the matter and was “satisfied that the required consultation . . . complied with the applicable legislation and good governance”.
Dlabantu added that the first meeting of the incoming council would proceed in September as planned.