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The South African Institution of Civil Engineering (SAICE) has lodged a high court action against the Department of Public Works. The body is leading the legal action on behalf of 14 engineering associations with a combined membership of over 50 000 individuals and organisations.

Engineering bodies launch legal actionAccording to the papers submitted to the court, the appointment of the current council sitting on the Engineering Council of SA (Ecsa) is illegal. The action is calling into question the integrity of Ecsa, stating that it is weakening the engineering profession in terms of quality and safety.

At the heart of the matter is Public Works Minister Thulas Nxesi’s announcement last year on the appointment of a new council aimed at transformation with a higher representation of women‚ youth and technicians. The bodies pursuing the legal action state that lack of integrity in the process to appoint the new Ecsa council has opened the door for individuals unknown to the industry‚ who now have undue influence over the profession, alleging irregularities in the appointment of Ecsa’s current 50-person council in September 2016.

In December, nine Ecsa members submitted their concerns to the council about its legitimacy, with the same concerns being sent to the Minister, but received no response. The court action states that changes were made without legally required consultation to the outgoing council’s approved list of members for the new council.

46 names and four vacancies were on the list approved by the council last year. However, the final list of council members inducted by the minister in September comprised 49 individuals with one vacancy. The court papers state that six people on the approved list were removed without consultation.

The Engineering Profession Act requires the public works minister to consult with the council if there are not enough nominations. In addition, the appointment of the Ecsa council requires that the outgoing council submits a list of 50 nominees, as well as an unspecified number of reserves, to the Department, following which the Minister will approve or change the lists before sending it back to Ecsa.

The Minister has the authority to replace nominees with those on the reserve list, provided consultation with Ecsa and its members takes place. According to the plaintiffs, this did not happen.

The Council for the Built Environment (CBE) was brought into the fracas late last year when a number of voluntary associations submitted a memorandum outlining their concerns. The CBE embarked on investigations, finding that the Minister did not consult the outgoing Ecsa council and that the final appointments were “without apparent rationale”.

The organisations involved in the action are: Aeronautical Society of South Africa, Concrete Society of Southern Africa, Institution of Certificated Mechanical and Electrical Engineers of South Africa, Institute of Municipal Engineering of Southern Africa, SAICE Professional Development & Projects, South African Institution of Chemical Engineers, Southern African Institute of Mining and Metallurgy, Consulting Engineers South Africa, Chamber of Engineering Technology, Institute of Professional Engineering Technologists, Southern African Society for Trenchless Technology, South African Asset Management Association, South African Institute of Agricultural Engineers, and South African Institution of Civil Engineering.

Copyright: ginasanders / 123RF Stock Photo

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