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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.

 

3 Comments

  1. As an retired engineer of some 80 plus years I want to commend Manglin on the article regarding Trust. In my career it was paramount and as a Consulting Engineer involved with Construction I developed singular trust with Contractors working both ways. Your word was your bond. It was almost that a written word was unnecessary! Perhaps the world has changed a little but I still believe the Engineer is a trustworthy individual – his training requires truth! Thank you

  2. The ostensibly low figure is not a surprise. It is factual – that is what these items are worth. The next logical step is to ask what the government actually paid for them. This leads on to the obvious questions, “Why?”, “Who is responsible?”, “What cation is being taken against the culprits?”

    But there is a much bigger elephant in the room: The security upgrades themselves. This begs lots of important questions: “What did we actually get for out money?”, “Why did they cost so much more than was spent on preceding Presidents?”, “Who benefited?”, etc. We, the public, should not be prepared to allow those responsible to hide behind a cloak of secrecy – It is OUR money that has been spent!

    In this regard we need to start thinking of money in terms of human lives. A quarter of a billion rands is equivalent to close on a 1000 lives. Think of a life span of 60 years for a poor person receiving a social grant, with each social grant supporting 4 people. (Its actually worse than that, because people usually only receive such a grant after reaching retirement age, which doesn’t leave 60 more years to live. (But the children raised on that support can have a longer life ahead of them.)

    Are the Predident’s security upgrades meant for the period after he ceases to be President really worth 1000 entire lives? You be the judge.

  3. Most of the engineers use to be high on Maslow’s triangle. They did what they believed in and in the process made a good living.
    The problem that developed in the profession over the last decade is that the empathy of Engineers to find the balance between the best solution from a technical point, the clients requirements/desires and the wider society as a whole was replaced with the “free market concept” of “what is in it for me and my stakeholder/s” – the reward must always be more than the effort otherwise there is “no – profit”

    A typical example – The government’s objective should be to ensure effective mobility for the nation as a whole. This means that a proper road network should be available for private travel and “public transport” systems for other commuters.
    The most effective “public transport system” in South Africa is the TAXI Industry for amongst others the following reasons:
    1. Total flexibility (capacity can increase/decrease in small quantities, routes can be added/eliminated on a daily basis) and almost a door to door service.
    2. Use the private road network and only requires dedicated lanes in congested areas.
    3. Provide job opportunities. Engineers tends to compare it to countries where there is not a huge unemployment problem
    4. The safety is the same as the road average when expressed per million passenger kilometres for accidents, injuries and fatalities. There are however a few big accidents which become emotional and create the impression that taxis are unsafe.
    5. The door-to-door travelling time is mostly faster than any other “public” transport system.
    6. The capacity per dedicated road lane is better than a bus system and approximately the same as a guided system per line.
    7. The industry can develop different services and service levels should there be a market – e.g. “gold” class taxis with 8 seats (say 60% average occupation), “silver” class taxis with 12 seats (say 80% occupation) and the current economy class (90+% occupation).
    8. The shocking fact – total cost to the country (operating & capital & infrastructure) of the current taxi industry is significantly lower that the bus systems and much-much lower than the suburban train system.
    9. The local and road authorities provides minimum and inadequate facilities for taxis. There are no dedicated “off-road” taxi facilities to pick up and drop off passengers which leads to taxis picking up and dropping off passengers where they want to be picked up and dropped off – the best client service possible?. The result is that there is a perception that taxis stop wherever they want to stop.
    10. The system requires that the driver must do his utmost best to do an extra trip because that is mainly his “personal profit”. This however leads to some drivers breaking traffic rules and drive recklessly which creates the general perception that the taxi industry is unsafe and reckless.

    Coming to your article:
    The tendency is that “transport planners and consultants” act on what the ‘Client” wants and where the best potential income is.
    If the King say cut the baby in half – the “consultant” do an in depth study on the best methodology and equipment to cut the baby in half rather than to find the real solution to the problem.

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