The South African Institution of Civil Engineering (SAICE) regards government’s action as a regrettable development that neither fosters the management of the water resources in South Africa nor the transformation agenda of government and our people.
Water Affairs and Sanitation (DW&S) Minister, Nomvula Mokonyane, along with Italy’s Deputy Minister of the environment, land and sea, have signed a water-cooperation agreement “to work on joint projects that will enhance capacity building, technology transfer and technical assistance in the fields of water quality enhancement, water resource management, water service management and rural sanitation technology.” (BusinessLive of 2016-10-19)
Manglin Pillay, CEO of SAICE (seen right), is outspoken, “I am not sure what’s wrong with local engineering capacity that the Minister goes to Italy to seek assistance. As in the case of the Cuban engineers over the years, it illustrates once again the DW&S’ disregard for local industry body concerns. It brings to the fore the apathy and general disregard for the opinions of industry institutions, highly acknowledged key decision-makers and water engineering specialists. SAICE implores the department to review these appointments before they arrive and to invite relevant institutions and local water experts to fashion alternatives that are appropriate to the challenges at hand.
“It must be clarified that the dispute relating to consultation with the local institutions pertains to sourcing appropriate local solutions, in collaboration with the institutions, in order to relieve technical capacity challenges.”
Pillay continues, “The engineering institutions have direct access to and influence on its members, some of whom have indicated willingness to work in the public sector. SAICE, for example, conducted a survey amongst 380 of its members, 40% of whom indicated their willingness to work in the public sector. In addition Consulting Engineers SA (CESA) has publicly confirmed that there is currently a 40% under-utilisation of local consulting engineering capacity in South Africa.
Pillay argues, “Hundreds of graduate technicians and technologists are struggling to find experiential training or sustainable work – this in a country with unemployment in excess of 25%. On top of this, a large number of civil engineering practitioners have been retrenched over a period of a year and a half.”
According to the results of the SAICE survey, local engineering professionals are willing to work in the public sector on condition that:
• infrastructure departments should not be politicised
• technocrats should have decision-making power
• the lack of systems, processes and structures for efficient administration should be addressed
• development and career paths should be clear, and
• unwarranted interference by Human Resources and Finances in departments in the work of infrastructure engineering professionals, be stopped
“Apart from the above,” Pillay contends, “the initiative does not answer to the requirements of the National Development Plan (NDP) which is the medium- and long-term vision document for South Africa. The NDP calls for urgent re-professionalising of the public sector. The DW&S now spends this money on Italian practitioners at the expense of developing young engineers, and retaining local engineers.”
The real solution
Pillay points out, “Skills shortage and capacity issues within the department can be addressed through focused efforts to train and develop young engineers, and utilising local, professionally registered engineers, giving them the same monetary and other benefits as the imported civil engineers, civil technologists and civil technicians. It is only through appropriate mentorship and supervision that young graduate engineers will be able to register as professionals with ECSA to eventually become experts in their fields.
“Therefore the argument that the Italian initiative is an effort to train and develop these young engineers, technicians and technologists within the public sector, is highly questionable, especially in view of the fact that they will be employed for only a relatively short time. The involvement of women and youth in projects is already being done, as is evident in the SAICE-SAFCEC Awards given for excellence in community-based civil engineering projects which are changing the lives of people as we speak.”
SAICE, on behalf of the engineering institutions in the country, implores the DW&S to rather invest in alternatives which actually address the real problems of skills shortage in the department and country. Pillay states that government should employ local, registered, experienced senior engineers to avoid another ESKOM and Rand Water situation. Pillay concludes, “South Africa must use local, available expertise.”