By Chris Campbell – CEO CESA

Consulting Engineers South Africa (CESA) proudly recently kicked off its annual Infrastructure Indaba under the theme ‘Engineering the future now’. Held for the first time as a virtual event, the online platform boasted networking opportunities and discussions which were highly engaging amid South Africa’s turbulent construction landscape.

CESA President, Sugen Pillay, opened the event by discussing South Africa’s Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan. “This plan has created some much-needed optimism in the country, and I must highlight the important role of consulting engineers in this plan,” said Pillay. “However, while the role of engineers will be critical in the recovery process, it is also important to note all the role players and stakeholders across the entire construction value chain who will be invaluable in the rebuilding process.”

In his keynote address, Cas Coovadia, CEO of Business Unity South Africa (BUSA) discussed some challenges facing the construction and procurement environment. “There is a lack of urgency. Government is not making the hard decisions which are needed to create a conducive environment for infrastructure development.” Coovadia reported that BUSA has been working with Infrastructure SA but has concerns over the “smorgasbord” of infrastructure projects which are planned. “Government should be focussing their efforts on four or five major, growth-critical infrastructure projects with engagement of the private sector. We are not having the tough discussions which will lead to the hard decisions we need to move our country forward in our infrastructure plans.”

The second keynote speaker for the day was Bongani Baloyi – Executive Mayor for the Midvaal Local Municipality – who discussed the relationship between engineers and the public sector. He said, “It is impossible to dissect engineering and politics from each other. There is a long history of engineers working in tandem with the public sector and some may argue that the first public servants were, in fact, engineers.” He said that since there is common ground in serving society with public infrastructure, engineers and politicians must work together. He encouraged engineers to consider taking up professional roles within local government departments. “The engineering industry is directly influenced by the decisions of government. Professional engineers must bring their practical view to public sector plans. When politicians and engineers work well together, the result is high quality public infrastructure delivered on time, on budget, and to the right specifications. This is the outcome we must strive towards.” Touching on the scourge of corruption, he added: “We love our country, but we have not done enough to combat unethical conduct and to hold people accountable for misconduct.” He concluded by encouraging CESA members to report any instances where they are put under pressure by public servants to sway projects in unethical directions.

Bongani Baloyi – Executive Mayor for the Midvaal Local Municipality. Image credit: CESA

Bongani Baloyi – Executive Mayor for the Midvaal Local Municipality. Image credit: CESA

Presentations throughout the day focused on two key themes of infrastructure investment and development, and public sector procurement in the construction sector. The line-up featured high calibre speakers from across the construction value chain including engineers, property developers, economists, and finance institutions, which fostered diversity in opinions and rich discussions.

International speaker, Mark Steiner, from the Association of Consulting Engineering Companies in the USA (ACEC) gave an impressive presentation on Quality Based Selection (QBS) and the consequences of simply gravitating to the least cost procurement route. He provided examples of lessons learnt and the consequent risks related to least cost selection in the procurement of infrastructure.

Notable on the agenda, Dr Miriam Altman – a well experienced economist and Professor of 4IR Practice at UJ – unpacked the National Infrastructure Plan 2050. Dr Altman assisted Infrastructure SA with formulating this plan and explained how it aims to improve procurement. “There is a strong focus in the plan on building capacity as it relates to knowledge services – and a key part of this is to achieve an improved procurement process.” She highlighted that infrastructure procurement and delivery management (IPDM) must be focussed on value for money rather than least cost, with a deeper consideration of the project lifecycle. Additionally, it is suggested that IPDM be de-linked from centralised purchasing and should rather be led by a chief procurement officer specifically mandated and capacitated with built environment professionals.

The emphasis on value for money was echoed by Ishmail Cassiem, Director: Construction Industry Performance Programme for the Construction Industry Development Board (cidb). He explained that the preamble to the CIDB Act 38 of 2000 states that the specialised nature of construction places on onus on the public sector client to continuously improve its procurement and delivery management skill “in a way that promotes efficiency, value for money and the sustainable development of the construction industry.” He said that value for money must be recognised in the procurement process.

CESA CEO, Chris Campbell, wrapped up the event with great thanks to the day’s participants and sponsors who showcased South Africa’s talent and expertise in the construction sector. “I believe we have made great progress today in connecting people and sharing ideas, helping create momentum towards SA’s growth and recovery,” he concluded. CESA extends their thanks the event sponsors who made this virtual event a success, including the cidb, Old Mutual, Zutari – as well as affiliates AON, Isowall Group and SLVR Soft.

“A key part of this is to achieve an improved procurement process.”