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Following the announcement of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s economic stimulus package, which is expected to focus on infrastructure construction and maintenance over the next few years, Consulting Engineers South Africa (CESA) has released a statement warning that it is critical that the funds allocated to these initiatives are used responsibly to gain true value for money.

CESA CEO Christopher CampbellAccording to Chris Campbell, CEO of CESA, the first step is to call out corruption where it is still taking place. “While blatant corruption, namely, getting paid for professional services and delivering nothing, is bad, appointing companies for infrastructure projects who lack both the capacity and the expertise and simply ‘sell-on’ projects, adding no value to the process, is equally bad. We would argue that this is tantamount to fronting and defeats the objective of developing future capacity in the consulting engineering industry,” he says.

Campbell adds that public sector investment in infrastructure is often no less than a 30-year investment, sometimes in excess of 50 years. The upfront planning and design phases could take between 3 and 5 years before construction commences, and the relative lifecycle cost contribution to the infrastructure investment is as little as 3%.

The next stage, construction, constitutes a cost contribution of 20% and may take place over a period of between 3 and 5 years. Therefore, after a period of 6 to 10 years, an investment of up to 23% of the total cost of ownership has been expended even before the infrastructure has been rendered available for use.

Public sector entities are then left with an asset which is meant to last for a minimum of 30 years, provided that it is correctly utilised and regularly maintained. This operation and maintenance phase constitutes the remaining 77% of the total cost of ownership in the investment process.

“Our current public infrastructure procurement process counter-intuitively drives costs down in the 3% area when appointing consulting engineering professional service providers, and seem to be oblivious to the opportunity to rather invest more in this phase so that the best professional service providers can maximise the quality of service that would derive savings in the remaining 97% cost component of the investment,” Campbell says.

“To fix this, we should start by appointing recognised companies with the appropriate expertise and capacity to do the upfront engineering, planning and design. Starting with companies affiliated with credible organisations is the first step towards stemming the tide against bogus service providers.”

Optimising money invested from a total cost of ownership perspective in infrastructure starts with the first 3% invested in the procurement of the appropriate consulting engineering services, he says. “Essentially, then we need to also dispense of the notion of expecting discounts on these professional services. Such demands are not made of legal or medical professionals so it is hard to understand how such a simplistic practice would be encouraged as it only destroys value in the process.”

According to Campbell, we need to discourage this counter-intuitive approach to procuring professional services if an optimal investment in infrastructure is to be made. “The public sector as the owner and custodian of our public infrastructure should set the example for optimally managing the process of ensuring that we invest holistically in infrastructure. It should not simply assume that procuring the services of professional consultants at least cost, with discounted fees, is responsible behavior,” he adds.

“Unless we act to correct this flawed process, we will not as a country be able to afford to operate and maintain these assets optimally, as potential ‘in-built’ shortcomings through cheap designs, poor equipment choices and lack of quality supervision during construction will mean more frequent maintenance at higher cost, or simply that maintenance will be deferred or not done. This means re- capitalising these assets long before the 30 year design life has been reached. You end up spending twice as much in half the time.”

Campbell says that CESA advocates for a more informed and holistic approach. “We need to drive this in a manner that ensures that future generations are not saddled with the plague of early failure of functional infrastructure or unsafe infrastructure and the continuous challenge to rebuild what should have been lasting infrastructure. It starts by commissioning the services of built environment professionals who are able to deliver quality services that provide long term value solutions to lasting infrastructure now.”

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