The South African Institution of Civil Engineering (SAICE) reiterates its abhorrence of any form of corruption, especially in the engineering community. In all such instances the need for justice and recompense is paramount and, although deeply saddened by it, SAICE stands by the punitive action that has been taken against many of the biggest contracting companies in our country. It is only right that a portion of their income deemed to be commensurate with their ill-gotten gains be deducted along with a fitting fine to deter them and others from doing so again.
Has justice now been served? Not quite. Then is further punitive action against the companies that took part in the collusion required to serve the ends of justice? SAICE has to question this notion on the grounds that the punishment should fit the crime and above all else the guilty should be punished rather than the innocent. The companies involved employ many thousands of workers of all categories, including some of SAICE’s finest engineers, who had no hand in the collusion and did their work with exemplary skill and diligence to deliver outstanding engineering works in an amazingly short space of time. Is it just to hound them into unemployment? SAICE believes not.
But there is one very important act of justice that has been omitted. Companies paying fines cannot expunge the corruption that stemmed from the individuals who knowingly participated in or condoned the acts of collusion. To date hardly any such individuals have had to face justice. These individuals have brought the engineering profession into disrepute and need to be censured in the strongest possible terms. Where appropriate, the right to operate as professional engineering practitioners should be revoked and some, including those involved who are not engineering practitioners, may need to face legal action in their individual capacity.
As a non-statutory voluntary association, SAICE does not have the authority or the means to carry out the investigations required to find out who was responsible or to take appropriate legal action. These powers and duties vest in the Engineering Council of South Africa (ECSA), a duly appointed statutory organisation, and SAICE offers them its support in carrying out their duties. SAICE trusts that this can be done speedily in order to deal with the faulted individuals, to then lay aside these encumbrances and get on with the mammoth task of rolling out the infrastructure that our nation relies on engineering practitioners to produce.
On the other hand, however, SAICE must question the motives of those who wish to decimate the biggest engineering companies in South Africa as it could have severe consequences for infrastructure development in the country. Is it to serve justice, or to muscle in on a corner of the market? Such protagonists might indeed grow to be a slightly bigger fish in a pond that has been drained. But at what cost to justice?
In South Africa, 80% to 90% of the skills, equipment and ability to deliver in the country’s infrastructure for economic growth, and particularly the planned Strategic Infrastructure Projects (SIPs), will be jeopardised if taken into account that this will be constructed over a 50 to 70-year period.
The following conclusions have been drawn from long-term research by the South African Federation of Civil Engineering Contractors (SAFCEC):
The share of big companies in civil engineering in SA is strongly related to the stage of the business cycle. At the bottom of the cycle (no growth or contraction) medium and small companies occupy roughly 50% of the domestic) market, with the big groups around 40% (or 80% of the remainder. During this phase of the cycle, big companies tend to capture larger portions of the international market in their efforts to maintain capacity.
As growth starts to accelerate, the big groups tend to absorb domestic medium and smaller companies (or form joint ventures with international groups), to enable rapid expansion/to acquire specialities needed for domestic capacity. Depending on the pace of growth and the characteristics of the projects (number and size of projects), the large groups can capture up to 70% of the overall market at the peak of the cycle.
As growth starts to slow down, people are laid off and joint ventures broken up, with the result that the share of smaller or medium companies increases again, until work runs out and a new 50:50 relationship is established.
In view of this, is the Wisdom of Solomon needed, not to cut the baby in half and lose everything?