It must have broke your poor little heart, when the boys used to say, you looked better in the dark.

But now they’d give all they learnt in school, to be somewhere in the dark with you.

UB 40 (Homely Girl, 1989)

A lawyer mate of mine, in a debate about the brain drain, once said that progressive South Africa will need to embrace the necessity to slow down so that others may catch up. In a more recent discussion on a completely different topic altogether, one of the most respected civil engineers in the country, Adrian Peters (ECSA Vice-President), eased my dilemma on the matter. At the time I was concerned about the state of our industry – what with all the challenges in our profession, where to from here for our beleaguered industry, and what about the future?

I know that I have taken the mickey out of government on several occasions – but you can’t blame me when our government builds R246 million rondavels and chicken coops, and aspires to purchase R4 billion aeroplanes for Number 1 to trounce all over the place. But in this particular piece, I am changing my tune a little. Governments are most effective in initiating change through policy and implementation of policy. Some that affect our industry positively have been forthcoming.

Here are a few interesting developments.

Firstly, in recent weeks we (SAICE), together with ECSA, have met with the Minister of Public Works, Mr Thulas Nxesi, who, through our instigation, pleaded for the review of the Engineering Profession Act (2000) to make changes therein that (1) will enable the professionalising of the public sector, and (2) will enable all engineering work to be done by professionally registered engineering practitioners. The Minister’s office will engage with SAICE and ECSA to start this work in the near future. The Minister also committed to expediting, through his influence, the process related to the Identification of Engineering Work that is currently sitting at the Competition Commission.

Secondly, with sterling work done by Dr Ron Watermeyer (SAICE 2004 President), National Treasury (NT) has finally published the Standard for Infrastructure Procurement and Delivery Management in terms of the PFMA and the MFMA (Treasury Instruction 4 of 2015/16). We now have one uniform system for infrastructure that separates the procurement of goods from the procurement of professional engineering services. It provides a framework for the planning, design and execution of infrastructure projects, the tracking of projects and the monitoring of performance. The framework also enables risks to be proactively managed, and ensures that infrastructure acquisition provides value for money. SAICE will be engaging with National Treasury on the implementation of the new legislation, and will be signing a memorandum of agreement with NT in this regard.

Thirdly, SAICE has met with the Public Protector in recent weeks to offer assistance with matters relating to civil and infrastructure engineering. Advocate Thuli Madonsela was delighted that SAICE wished to engage with her office, mentioning challenges associated with poor procurement practices, the Cuban engineers’ scandal, housing projects going awry, and unprofessional and unqualified individuals doing professional engineering work. She, too, proposed to sign an agreement of cooperation with SAICE, so that we can play an effective role in cleaning up our industry in a partnership for mutual benefit.

There are developments also regarding environmental legislation to improve the time frames of delivery of water use and mining licences and EIA records of decisions, but which still require our active participation and pressure to hold the system accountable. There are also developments on Minimum Competency Standards for the public sector, with particular focus on municipalities, which are being championed by MISA (Municipal Infrastructure Support Agent) and COGTA (Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs). This initiative aims at ensuring that appropriately qualified individuals are in appropriate positions in municipalities. Where they once wanted professionals to stay in the dark, government now wishes to seduce us back – which is a good thing of course. SAICE will be assisting in these initiatives.

Finally, the #FeesMustFall saga has given me greater hope for our industry and our country – more so when I engage with our civil engineering students. The technical competency, diversity and confidence of our students are at a far superior level than when I graduated 14 years ago. Our young people are more than able and willing to take South Africa and civil engineering forward.

So what about all the pessimism, corruption, infrastructure collapses and so on that continue to plague our industry? I am under no illusions about the difficulties ahead. I am also a firm believer that everywhere we go, we always take the weather with us. But Adrian Peters, in his usual articulate manner, said, “… sometimes we must accept that things get worse before they get better.”

In the geoid of my mind, the sun has risen for the South African civil engineering and construction industry.


1 Comment

  1. Yes, every dark cloud has a silver lining. Unfortunately we often have to be on the other side of it to receive the benefit.

    But having said that, there are indeed some sunbeams shining through. The procurement advance professionalisation of engineering services of which you speak two such heartening examples. As you well know they didn’t just happen. They were made to happen. We don’t have to passively accept man-made storms – we can move them! That is one of the hallmarks of engineering: the ability to gently harness the forces of nature for the benefit of mankind. The society in which we live is a part of the dynamic forces of nature and occasionally also needs to be nudged.

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