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South African construction sector – challenging at present but hope remains

An image depicting Chris Campbell

CHRIS CAMPBELL The 2022 preferential procurement regulations do not provide sufficient guidelines to inform public sector entities on how to shape criteria and avoid legal challenges

17th November 2023

     

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Amid the slow release of standardised bidding criteria by public sector entities, the South African civil engineering and construction sector is described as being on a “hiatus”, with it being almost impossible for companies to respond to vastly differing bid evaluation criteria, says industry body Consulting Engineers South Africa (Cesa) CEO Chris Campbell.

He contends that the 2022 preferential procurement regulations do not provide sufficient guidelines to inform public sector entities on how to shape criteria and avoid legal challenges as was recently experienced by the South African National Roads Agency.

“We have appealed to National Treasury to, in the interim, put out a guideline document for the preferential procurement criteria to avoid unintended consequences pending the promulgation of the regulations, which may only happen in the next 12 to 18 months,” he adds.

Unpacking Industry Challenges

Meanwhile, the local infrastructure sector is currently facing several challenges, including ongoing non-payment by public sector client bodies, in excess of 30 days, which contravenes the National Treasury 30-day payment prescript.

Other challenges include a lack of skilled and experienced resources – exacerbated by emigration at a time when this shortage is a global challenge – and, amid the increasing work-from-home trend, the industry is also experiencing a lag in the previously “on-tap” mentoring that was always possible prior to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Additionally, there are also challenges pertaining to crime, theft and vandalism of infrastructure, particularly related to local rail, water and energy infrastructure.

Campbell notes that existing regulations are not being adequately enforced to mitigate criminal activity.

“We have yet to see anyone being taken to task for breaching our various laws and acts such as the Protection of Critical Infrastructure Act.

“It is concerning that the entities responsible for owning and protecting such critical infrastructure are not held to account for not having done so in the past and still seem not to adequately do so in the present,” he explains.

Hence, he argues that law enforcement should be effected more significantly to avoid having to take drastic measures, such as banning the export of scrap metal, which he describes as a temporary measure at best, adding that the rule of law should apply to ensure sustainability of such controls.

“We need to make sure that we have appropriately skilled and knowledgeable leaders, whether at Ministerial or executive level, supported by skills and competency, in the operational environment.

“It is worth noting that professionalisation is as relevant to the private sector, as what it is to the public sector, if we are going to become world-class in all of our infrastructure development efforts. The political will for a constructive partnership between the public and private sector must be ongoing and all encompassing – a holistic partnership needs to be embraced.”

Meanwhile, to increase the awareness of the importance of topics related to future-proofing in infrastructure development, Campbell says global conferences, such as the International Federation of Consulting Engineers’ Global Infrastructure Conference, held in Singapore earlier this year, are important.

He explains that global conferences “dig deep” into topics that provide key insights and best practice related to procurement, climate change, decarbonisation in infrastructure development, managing integrity and corruption, and contract management, all aimed at creating a healthy balance between the actors in infrastructure development, globally.

“In all of the perspectives that we share, there is hope. The situation we find ourselves in, in our own beloved country, may seem untenable right now, which it is, but if we put our shoulders to the wheel collectively, then, much like countries such as Singapore and Mauritius, to cite a few who have experienced similar challenges but are now remarkably prosperous, we too can emerge an even better South Africa,” Campbell concludes.

Edited by Nadine James
Features Deputy Editor

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