It is widely understood that South Africa’s economy is set to be a casualty in the fight against Covid-19 and industries caught in the lockdown restrictions are eager to get back to work, with the construction industry being no different, says industry body Consulting Engineers South Africa (Cesa).
It notes, however, that the plea by the built environment sector to get back to work goes beyond the urgency for economic activity, with Cesa having long been encouraging partnerships and collaboration with government in spurring infrastructure development, both private and public.
“Now, while South Africans are staying home to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, the built environment industry is in the prime position to use this period to undertake the much-needed planning for infrastructure development for the future, while also assisting in giving effect to managing the maintenance of existing infrastructure, which is at risk of further deterioration.
“Notwithstanding the fact that such asset maintenance strategies were made available for the public sector in 2007 already, most often this has not been implemented. The risk is that much of this infrastructure will be run to failure, at which point maintenance will not be possible,” Cesa says.
It notes that South Africa will have to invest large amounts of capital to replace such failed infrastructure, funds the country cannot afford.
“However, the move for improved service delivery in respect of timely attention to maintenance requires that better use be made of private sector consulting engineering expertise at the disposal of the public sector, sooner rather than later, to supplement entities where such capacity is lacking,” Cesa says.
“At our Annual Infrastructure Indaba held in March this year, we highlighted the value that Cesa can offer in the re-capacitation of key State institutions. We have stayed true in our offer to partner with government to enable a capable State,” says CEO Chris Campbell.
As part of its commitment, Cesa has made use of its database of unemployed engineering practitioners seeking employment, as well as its database of retired engineers who wish to offer their expertise and mentorship to the industry and shared this with the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure.
However, it notes that this partnership is yet to bear fruit for the built environment industry and the many unemployed engineering graduates, with projects across the country progressing at a “snail’s” pace.
“With billions of rands being earmarked for infrastructure development prior to the pandemic, and current reports of stimulus packages into the trillions, government has demonstrated an intention to proceed with these; however, we do need to ‘walk the talk’ as a matter of urgency if we are to arrest the further negative growth of our economy.
“The private sector is eager to work with government on public service delivery, but government needs to ensure there will be greater policy certainty, less misalignment and more efficiency in the various permitting systems, which easily add several more years to the delivery process from the time that projects do commence,” Campbell says.
In response to the challenges facing the built environment and construction industries, a Covid-19 Construction Rapid Response Task Team was established in April with participation from key industry bodies to consider measures to help the industry recover.
This included partnering with government to ensure effective and integrated roll-out of infrastructure projects, and private sector partnerships for infrastructure development.
“We are ready to jump into action, as we see the built environment as a key driver for both economic and social development which is so desperately needed at this time. The construction industry has the potential to mitigate the setbacks in our economy brought on by the lockdown, an action understandably necessitated by the need to stem the tide of the growing risk of a spread of the pandemic,” says Campbell.