Where there is work that requires professionalism, accuracy, diligence, trust, reliability and ethical values; where the task summons for the services of men and women of honour, the petition should be: “Find me an engineer!”
SAICE, together with the Association of South African Quantity Surveyors, was involved directly in assisting Minister Pravin Gordhan and National Treasury in determining the amount that President Jacob Zuma must pay back in relation to the development of his private residence in Nkandla.
This work was done pro bono by SAICE, as a service to the public and in the public interest. Our offer to assist National Treasury appealed to Minister Gordhan, who subsequently appointed us to determine the reasonable percentage of the costs of those measures which ought to be paid personally by the President. The team comprised senior registered civil engineers and quantity surveyors, who are known in the industry for their integrity. The team took its mandate from a scope defined by National Treasury, following the judgement of the highest court in the land, the Constitutional Court.
When the number of R7.8 million was announced, it was clear in many circles that the amount was thought to be offensively low. There were some views that expressed feelings of SAICE legitimising a reduction in liability and accountability for a prominent person who benefited personally and unduly from public funds. These concerns are genuine and understandable.
As civil engineers in a profession that is best suited to interpret the information presented, and as people of ethical stature who expel impulse and subjectivity, we were called upon to make a fair assessment of what was actually done. The Constitutional Court judgement mandated National Treasury to determine the “… reasonable costs of those measures implemented by the Department of Public Works at the President’s Nkandla homestead that do not relate to security, namely the visitor centre, the amphitheatre, the cattle kraal, the chicken run and the swimming pool only.” Essentially, we answered the question: “If Jacob Zuma was to privately build a visitor centre, an amphitheatre, a cattle kraal, a chicken run and a swimming pool, what would it have cost him?” The R7.8 million must be seen within this mandate as described in the Constitutional Court ruling.
Our experience with Nkandla has caused me to contemplate the role of civil engineering professionals in advocacy and social justice – a germane topic for a country where freedom of speech and participation are alive in an unequal democracy. SAICE’s 113-year-old Constitution defines ethical decisions as those which are concerned with justice and equity, and which include considerations of good and right. Add to this SAICE’s vision of being a trusted advisor to public bodies for public interest, and the foundation for social justice was cast in 1903. But why are we well placed to advance social justice? Consider the following:
Physical: As engineering practitioners we pride ourselves on numbers and scientific reason validating our decision-making – the application of mathematics and science, in collaboration with nature, to create a product that is of benefit to human society. On a tangible realm where all is defined in four dimensions – X, Y, Z and time – this premise is undeniably true.
Discernment: In an intense discussion with Mr Trevor Manuel several years ago, he looked at me with great empathy and said, “Manglin, your problem is that you think like an engineer.” At the time, the accusation stung. I have gradually come to understand that there is another dimension to problem-solving – like all problems are not linear, so too, the answers are not always in the numbers. Very often the numbers might make sense, but the revelation lies not in the knowledge of numbers. We are summoned then to a higher order plane. If the numbers were the be all and end all of integrated problem-solving, then King Solomon should simply have allowed the sword to do its deadly deed – slice the baby down the centre, and give one half to each desolate woman, much to the revulsion of the moral and ethical dimension of observation.
It is an issue of trust. Civil engineering professionals have a reputation for being trusted on both the measurable physical dimension and, even though we claim discomfort and aversion to it, we are also relied upon for that higher order of discernment decision-making. And to whom much is given, much is expected.
It is for these confidences of trust that SAICE, and every member of SAICE who subscribes to the values and traditions of this profession, is well positioned and empowered to be advocates for social justice. In the current vacuum of moral leadership in politics, I am proud to be associated with SAICE in relation to a small work done in the interest of social justice. In the posterity of time, and in the mediation of chronicles, SAICE shall be adjudicated as being on the right side of history.