The South African Institution of Civil Engineering (SAICE) notes Minister Tito Mboweni’s Medium Term Budget Policy Statement (MTBPS) presented in Parliament on 25 October 2018. The Institution welcomes Government’s focus on infrastructure development in support of economic recovery and job creation. It especially supports the development of an infrastructure fund in partnership with the private sector aimed at enhancing economic growth and improving governance. The reinforcing of a commitment to the National Development Plan is also encouraging.

SAICE however hopes that this reprioritisation of infrastructure to support economic growth and job creation is accompanied by a real and sustainable commitment and action to re-professionalization and capacitating of public sector departments both locally and nationally – to meet the needs of the roll out of projects and infrastructure spend. For years, government has announced, repeatedly from the highest points of administration in the country, investment in the tune of billions into infrastructure – only for there to be no significant implementation and roll out of projects at local level.

Commenting on the issue, SAICE COO Steven Kaplan said, “This has been ongoing while the built environment has been for a long time plagued with lack of sustainable project work, with firms being forced to release engineers back into the market.  There has also been a steady rise of student graduates in the sector that has not been able to secure sustainable work for in-service training, as well as post-graduation employment.”

An incapacitated public sector has resulted in the lack of structures, processes and systems in government to manage infrastructure spend and is evident in the lack of knowledge on how to identify projects and how to spend the allocated money. This challenge is at its most detrimental at the local municipalities where infrastructure engineering service delivery meets the community.

The key to unlocking infrastructure development lies in capacitating the Government departments, Local Authorities, and state owned enterprises. Fixing this requires a multi-pronged approach. In the immediate short-term all tiers of government need to offer better terms to their existing experienced professional staff to stop further haemorrhaging. This needs to be supplemented by the “re-treading” of retired engineers. Getting out the necessary tenders will also require the services of experienced professionals seconded from the private sector. Now would be an opportune time to do so. Political and managerial resolve is required to make the necessary funds available and actively oversee the recruitment.

“It is encouraging that the new administration has indicated an embracing of collaborative efforts between the private and public sector. SAICE reiterates its availability to be of service to government to assist in alleviating these technical issues. SAICE is a lobby group. Our job is to make government ministers and officials understand what needs to be done, and then help them do it”, said Kaplan.

Issued by the South African Institution of Civil Engineering (SAICE)

For more information please contact:

Nadeena Le’ Tang

Tel: 011 805 5947

Cell: 071 008 2052




  1. Thanks Steven, now please follow up with an appeal to Treasury to re-design the procurement policies and contracting regulations that are like chronic constipation to the roll-out of infrastructure projects.

  2. I could not agree more with what has been said. I have been employed by the then Department of Water Affairs and Forestry, DWAF, from the mid 80’s and left for the private sector as my career stagnated and the effects of political interference with technical matters forced me out of my comfort zone. I applied for a post in Australia – GHD Perth, and was offered a position as an Engineer in a small town in Western Australia. Being a loyal and patriotic SA citizen I declined the offer and the found employment with a SA Engineering company.

    My career blossomed and I have been exposed to a number of large to Mega-Projects. I was the RE on a large water treatment works for 4 years and am currently working in Kenya on a Dam, Water Treatment and Supply Network including a 15km tunnel. Over the years in the Private sector the bulk of our Clients have been The Public Sector, 3rd level Government & Metro’s.

    I have kept in touch with my colleagues in DWAF and other National Departments over the years and I have shared their frustrations having to deal with Politics and incompetent management. I have a burning desire to be part of reviving my “Old Department – now the Department of Water and Sanitation”. With the experience and skills I have learned over the past 10 years in the private sector plus my previous 21 years at the Department I know I have so much to offer the youth. It has been my passion to train young Engineers and equipping them for the future or unlocking their potential making sure that we can build a better SA for all.

    When I started at the Department our salaries were never close to that of the private sector, sadly it is now better to be employed in Government than in the Private sector. What made engineers join and stay with the DWAF was never the salaries but the opportunities to do highly skilled work, being part of a very well structured training and career development path and mostly job satisfaction. Yes there was always a turnover of Technical Staff but a fair portion stayed, that is why you have Engineers retiring from DWS now with 40+ years of pure bliss careers who will recall with joy their careers and all the project they were involved with. There was a sense of camaraderie and family. There is a group for all retired and resigned ex-DWS staff and we share in each other’s joy, pain and sorrows in regular newsletters and e-mails.

    As I said, the biggest reason for Engineers to join the then DWAF was never money but job satisfaction and pride. Maybe it will happen again that the Departments return to their former glory. I would gladly share my knowledge and help train young willing Engineers.

  3. In this vein the ‘re-professionalisation’ of some provincial roads authorities is a high priority, as in their present state they are not delivering on their mandate. When contracts are not being awarded, infrastructure is deteriorating, accidents are increasing, and maintenance is not being done, we all know what the outcome will be. Each Authority should be taking on 10 graduates each year with some senior engineers in a special projects division or similar with a focus on rebuilding institutional capability before its too late.

    In my view this is achievable, and should be mandated by central government, with support from Provincial Transport MEC’s. Perhaps SAICE can get this ball rolling.

  4. Based on my 40 or so years experience I wholeheartedly agree with Steve’s comments.
    The public sector used to be the prime area for the provision of the country’s road, rail and water infrastructure provided by the in-house endeavours of competent and experienced engineers with often world reputations.

  5. I agree with most comments but the rehiring of experienced engineers must not be done at the loss of opportunities for young competent professionals. I welcome the advise of experience but in my time when power is left with experience their decisions become overpowering and out of sync with available information and today’s times. Experience to guide yes, but not experience to remain in power.

  6. The utterances made by the previous CEO of SAICE in respect of women, indicated that he was merely symptomatic of problems within SAICE. This latest press release simply confirms that SAICE no longer represents the interests of all its members, but focuses on male, private sector members.

    Although SAICE is supposed to represent ALL of its members this press release is simply a lobby piece for private sector consultants which degenerates SAICE members working in the public sector.

    “Getting out the necessary tenders will also require the services of experienced professionals seconded from the private sector.” I am in the public sector and take exception to the statement

    From where I sit the private sector are no angels and when we have requested consultants (one of the biggest firms in the country) to produce tenders documents it has been the biggest load of hogwash I have ever see, to the extent that I had to write a new document from afresh.

    “An incapacitated public sector has resulted in the lack of structures, processes and systems in government to manage infrastructure spend and is evident in the lack of knowledge on how to identify projects and how to spend the allocated money”.

    From the position where I sit and have sat in the past the private sector has been fully involved in identifying projects that are financially unsustainable such as the Gautrain and Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project, roads and bridges to no-where, lobbying for projects in municipalities that the municipalities cannot afford. One of the reasons that there is a lack of new work is that South Africa is paying off the debt incurred on existing projects and cannot take on new debt for new infrastructure. Another reason for projects not proceeding is that there are too many projects that cannot generate their own cash flow chasing too little money in the fiscus. SAICE and the private sector have been nowhere on the discussion on how to prioritise projects in this environment.

    In Local Government the position is far worse, particularly in the more rural municipalities where pay is low and it is difficult to attract professional staff to the area. As a result senior positions are filled with staff with very little experience. Private sector consultants take full advantage of this and lobby politicians to put in financially unsustainable solutions for the short-term benefit of the fees that it will generate. When officials do try and point out the problems with these proposals from the private sector they are often on the receiving end of threats, including death threats from the private sector. At no point has SAICE every offered any support to its members, in this situation or even denounced the action of its private sector members.

    Also, very little if any thought is given by the private sector to the long-term operation and maintenance of the systems that they identify in the feasibility studies. I am in possession of one report where although it recommended a course of action on purification of acid mine drainage had not concluded an agreement with anyone on where the water would go, the very basis for determining the required technology and configuration of the scheme. The consultants were paid an extremely hefty fee for a feasibility study that could not be implemented.

    “SAICE is a lobby group.” SAICE is not a lobby group. If it is then can it please declare on whose behalf it has been lobbying so those is does not represent and is in fact lobbying against can leave SAICE and be refunded the fees from the date in changed from being a learned society to a lobby group

    “Our job is to make government ministers and officials understand what needs to be done, and then help them do it”, said Kaplan.” Again I take great exception to its content. This statement says in effect that SAICE does not represent officials that are members (as SAICE is lobbying against them) and makes the statement that we are so ignorant that we do not understand what needs to be done or have any capability to do it.

    I request that the media release be withdrawn and SAICE apologises to its members who are government officials.

    in our correspondence in August 2018 you stated the need for diversity training, yet to date nothing has been done. It seems the need is even more pressing.

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