Industry association Consulting Engineers South Africa (Cesa) has questioned the Department of Water and Sanitation's decision to bring in 24 Cuban engineers, while the capacity utilisation of local engineering skills has dropped to 80% in the most recent Cesa Bi-annual Economic and Capacity Survey (BECS) survey.
The Cuban engineers are specialists who will serve as advisers at provincial and local government level across the country to enhance government’s efforts in water delivery and related services by sharing their skills in the areas of mechanical, electrical and civil engineering, as well as project management, the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) has said.
However, Cesa CEO Chris Campbell argues that employing highly skilled locally experienced engineers, supported by unemployed graduates, will provide a more sustainable solution.
“We must question the decision by government to import engineering skills when we have a situation where our own local engineering skills in the private sector are under-utilised, together with a large pool of unemployed graduates,” he says.
“This reduction in capacity utilisation, coupled with the large pool of unemployed graduates, begs the question as to why government is importing foreign skills when we already have those skills locally within the private sector? This also begs the question why so little has been done to leverage our local expertise and grow our own future capacity over the last 20 years.”
Campbell believes the 24 Cuban engineers are not going to make a dent in the capacity challenges that exist at provincial and national levels in the DWS. The solution is to address this through meaningful public-private partnerships (PPPs).
“While we acknowledge the important role that Cuba played in our struggle for freedom and the cooperation agreement between our two countries in respect of water resources management, water supply and sanitation, which started as far back as 2001, South Africa is ironically known for its own engineering skills globally and, with our water resource management scope substantially larger than that of Cuba, this appears to be an ongoing and fruitless exercise in skills exchange at the expense of our own unemployed engineers,” Campbell avers.
A sustainable partnership between government and the private sector on engineering capacity development has been proposed and has remained on offer over the past ten years, but has not been embraced by the DWS, although the offer has never had an expiration date, he adds.