It’s a grand affair talking to a Minister – all suited up, hands clasped in front, nodding more than usual and creasing the forehead every so often to appreciate the depth of the conversation.
I recently had a conversation with a Minister from one of our leading infrastructure ministries. He said to me, “.…so you are SAICE, the engineers.… I need engineers. I need to deploy engineers in all my departments. Please send me engineers. I will pay them.…”
Another chief whip from an engineering-allied government council asked me, “.…so where are the engineers? Everybody is talking about infrastructure, capital investment for infrastructure projects and budgets for Strategic Infrastructure Projects – everybody, but the engineers. Where is the voice of the engineer?”
I nearly tumbled off my chair from incredulity. Or guilt.
I have had similar pleas from other government departments in the past two weeks for SAICE to assist with re-professionalising their technical service delivery departments. This is excellent news, but it seems that the profile of the engineer needs attention, not only in the eyes of the public, but with government as well. Although SAICE has historically been doing this, we should improve and sustain our efforts in this regard, as well as give attention to the credibility and trust issues between government and engineers.
I listened intently to President Jacob Zuma and Minister Pravin Gordhan deliver their aspirations for the year; again infrastructure and service delivery featured prominently. At last year’s announcements, we cheered when infrastructure was given high priority, and bold statements and budget allocations were made. It follows then that the reasonable expectation for this year would have been to appreciate how we are doing now since those announcements last year. What have the allocations been achieving? How much was spent, and what impact did it have? And how are the projects doing?
I commend the planning commission and the National Development Plan (NDP), and that the ANC at Mangaung accepted the NDP as the blueprint for economic development for South Africa, and that it has become the short-, medium- and long-term vision and mission document for SA.
I am concerned, however, that we are not so hot on transparent implementation and keeping the constituency informed. It is time for implementation, and for the visual impression of that implementation to be palpable to our citizenry. We want targets and timelines, tangible deliverables, monitoring, evaluation and announcements, and that from the big chief himself, too.
The sterling work of the NPC is done. We now need an Implementation, Monitoring and Evaluation Commission, and capable resources to assess the quality of the efforts – to ensure follow-through and that value for money is actually derived.
We need to mobilise the professionals – engineers and other professions – to strive alongside government. As all 13 of the NDP’s goals are impacted by civil infrastructure engineering and its related disciplines, who better then to do this than the custodians of infrastructure themselves – the engineers. Government needs to make strides in positioning itself as the employer of choice for engineers, and our engineers need to see career paths in the government sector.
The NDP states clearly that the plan is only as credible as its delivery mechanism is viable. And for now, I am afraid that the delivery mechanism has only started smelling the roses. Government has come to realise that we need appropriately qualified technocrats to ensure the delivery of the NDP, and my cynicism aside, this is certainly a good move. Slow – but good.