The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) held its 142nd annual conference from 18 to 20 October 2012. This year the theme of the engineering conference was “Civil Engineering in the new Global Economy”. The ASCE conference, which took place in Montreal, Canada, united representatives of academia, consulting, government and industry from across the globe to learn of, and discuss, the changes shaping the civil engineering profession.  

The conference was split into the following different concurrent sessions: making the case for infrastructure investment, civil engineering outreach in practice, managing risks in a global market, the use of technology to exceed a client’s expectations, how to prepare a state report card, ethics in international practice, and ethics in project procurement and competition.


Making the case for infrastructure investment

This session dealt with four economic studies that ASCE commissioned to try and quantify the costs to households if the current level of expenditure on infrastructure asset management is maintained.  The studies also indicated the extent of the additional investment that would be required to reduce the additional cost to households.

The studies covered transportation, ports and harbours, water supply and another discipline over a twenty year period. Each analysis was handled separately and no collective figure was given, due to the complexity of trying to combine the effects.  It would seem that the cumulative effect would be well in excess of US$ 1 000 per annum per USA household.

Conclusion for South Africa

We should consider linking with a reputable independent economic analysis organisation to conduct similar studies as part of the Infrastructure Report Card so as to better quantify the implications of the state of our infrastructure and to make the Report Card more relevant to the general public.

Civil engineering outreach in practice

A panel of young members outlined their experience in outreach, which included community projects, as well as schools outreach, starting at primary school level.  ASCE has well-prepared packs and guidelines for such outreach programmes, which seem to be more comprehensive than those of SAICE. The approach adopted is similar to that of SAICE.

Conclusion for South Africa

We could consider a more structured approach to community projects involving learners, and start engaging with learners at primary school stage.

Managing risks in a global market

A panel discussed different contractual arrangements between the parties (client, consultant and contractor) through to design/build and public/private partnerships. The risks were outlined, as were matters for which traditional professional liability insurance do not make provision.

Conclusion for South Africa

The matters are pretty well known by our practitioners engaged in such contracts.

The use of technology to exceed a client’s expectations

The session did not cover the aspect of technology in general, but was a demonstration of a proprietary 3D computer package called SITEOPS (that is a web-based site planning software) suitable for pre-feasibility and feasibility studies.  The package assists in site layouts and costing.

Conclusion for South Africa

Such a tool is probably known to practitioners in South Africa.

How to prepare a state report card

Due to the National Report Card being considered as too general for individual states, State Report Cards have and are being prepared. ASCE’s National Office has prepared guidelines for such cards and assists with their compilation, publication and promotion. Experience of the teams from four states was shared during a panel discussion.

Conclusion for South Africa

Some of the states are as large if not larger than South Africa and hence our report card is in essence similar to ASCE’s State Report Cards. We might consider, however, engaging with our branches regarding the feasibility of SAICE publishing provincial report cards, possibly using data for the national report card as a foundation.

Ethics in international practice

The session took the form of a debate regarding whether it would be unethical for an American Professional Engineer to sign off designs that do not comply with the codes of his/her home state (American Engineers have to be licensed in each state in which they do work).

The discussion was lively with strong points from both sides. The views were generally America-centric and tended not to take into account the perspectives nor the requirements of the other countries in which or for which the work would be done. The matter was not resolved, as administrative and legal opinions tended to cloud the ethical aspects.

Conclusion for South Africa

We could consider a similar debate regarding our own ethics with regard to our relationships with the Federation of African Engineering Organisations (FAEO) countries, and possibly develop guidelines for our members’ conduct when working in at least the Southern African Federation of Engineering Organisations (SAFEO) countries.

Ethics in project procurement and competition

A panel discussion commenced, with Quebec’s licensing regulator (ECSA’s equivalent) outlining ethical issues in the province. Currently there is a well-publicised enquiry into the role of organised crime in corrupt practices in procurement. It seems to be a significant problem. The regulator handles upward of 400 cases per year in respect of complaints that (in the main) are lodged by the press, the public and whistle-blowers.

A representative of the World Bank outlined the manner in which the WB is endeavouring to address corrupt practices amongst member countries and service providers. The WB continually has to improve methods, as corrupt practices keep on changing and becoming more sophisticated.

A representative of a service provider to ESKOM used the Madupi Power Station in Limpopo as an example of the manner in which a sound procurement practice could be used to reduce irregularities in procurement. A video was shown containing a message from ESKOM’s project manager for Madupi, which came across well. It was really pleasing that the example of what is considered good practice came from South Africa.

Conclusion for South Africa

We are not alone in having procurement and competition malpractices that affect our industry. What is clear, however, is that such practices are having a detrimental impact on our industry and upon the public perception of our industry. Consequently, we should become more active in assisting regulatory authorities to eradicate the scourge.



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