Countries globally are increasingly turning to self-certification to combat public sector bottlenecks that result in serious application backlogs and that impede the building process. South Africa urgently needs to do the same for an industry that was in rescue mode even before Covid-19, the Western Cape Property Development Forum (WCPDF) suggests.
It notes that, in a first for South Africa’s built environment, 34 representative organisations came together during the height of the Covid-19 lockdown to form the Construction Covid-19 Rapid Response Task Team.
While the task team's most urgent concern was to reopen construction sites during lockdown, it also collectively presented Public Works and Infrastructure Minister Patricia de Lille with a medium-term plan for the activation of the industry post the lockdown.
Highlighting the crucial bottlenecks that had to be tackled to enable the South African property development and construction sector to recover nationally post pandemic, the plan also looks to save the sector from the collapse it was heading towards even before Covid-19 struck, says the WCPDF.
One of the key features of the plan is its aim of convincing authorities at all levels of the urgent need to allow self-certification, looking towards countries such as the UK, Australia and New Zealand that are already actively engaged in this process.
“We are certainly not the only country that encounters red tape, but for a number of years now we have watched a plethora of ever-increasing regulations and legislation being placed on our sector by all spheres of government, requiring certification of processes at every step of the way and slowly strangling the development process,” comments WCPDF chairperson Deon van Zyl.
Part of the problem, he says, is that while these certification processes have increased, the essential employment of qualified staff within public authority structures to deal with these certifications has not taken place.
“Indeed, it’s gone seriously backwards as staff leave and are not replaced either at all or by suitably trained professionals in the field.
"In the Western Cape, even before a spade can hit the ground these days, standard approval processes now take an average of between four and eight years – double the time compared to a few years ago,” he notes.
WCPDF posits that self-certification enables municipalities to establish databases of qualified private practice professionals, in collaboration with the professional registration bodies, who are then able to assist with approvals and thus unlock the vast blockages faced within municipalities.
Currently, only structural engineers are able to self-certify and there is an urgent need to extend this to other engineering disciplines along with professions such as architects and town planners, emphasises WCPDF.
It also mentions general concerns over the lack of will on the part of national, provincial and local government to work together to streamline and overlap approvals in the first place, and to extend self-certification to other professionals.
The document presented to De Lille by the task team stresses the need for efficient statutory approval processes.
The document also recommends that municipalities establish planning and approval directorates which co-opt registered and accredited professionals to help municipalities unlock the blockages they face.
“What we have recommended with self-certification is not that professionals be allowed necessarily to approve their own projects, but that broader categories of private professional practitioners – beyond just structural engineers – be given this role to assist municipalities,” explains Van Zyl.