3 February 2021. Consulting Engineers South Africa’s (CESA) President, Sugen Pillay, presented his presidential message and theme for the year at a virtual event this morning attended by media, CESA members, and infrastructure stakeholders from around South Africa. Pillay revealed his 2021 theme as ‘Rebuilding with Purpose’.
“When I delivered my presidential address this time last year, I had little idea of what was to come in 2020 – the unprecedented trials and tribulations that would face our industry, our country, and our global society,” began Pillay. “However, the words I said then, 12 months ago, were more apt than I could have imagined. You might remember, I said: ‘We are certainly in a period of great change. In times such as these, there is always uncertainty as to how events may unfold, and a certain amount of trepidation as to what the change may entail, and what the future may hold.’ This was before COVID-19 reached our shores.”
However, Pillay said that despite the uncertainly and trepidation, South Africa is facing these economic and social challenges with resilience and determination. He cited the South African Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan, which has created some much-needed optimism for the consulting engineering industry. “Despite the hardships facing our country – hardships we cannot expect to dissipate soon – CESA remains committed to improving the business landscape and playing our part in creating a conducive procurement environment as well as shaping the requisite talent to see that our country’s developmental goals are met. We aim to mould our industry of consulting engineers to ensure we continue to protect lives through quality and safe infrastructure, and protect livelihoods through the creation of economic opportunities for the wider construction value chain,” he said.
Reflecting on the past year, Pillay said CESA had made progress in strengthening the relationship between government and the private sector, showcased by the association’s involvement in the Sustainable Infrastructure Development Symposium South Africa in June last year. “However, it has become clear that South Africa still faces many of the same challenges as in prior years, with an ongoing demise of public decision-making processes, a lack of checks and balances within procurement systems, and a loss of accountability of those tasked with leading change.” He mentioned President Ramaphosa’s slow and laborious efforts to curb corruption, and the poor results from the 2020 Auditor-General’s report as examples. ”We also face continuously delayed infrastructure delivery, and those projects which do see progress are hampered by obstructions from the so-called construction mafia.”
However, Pillay chose to highlight the good, and not dwell on the negative. He said that last year showed a greater focus on people rather than profit. “As compassion and empathy gained momentum amid a public health crisis, we are now seeing an industry of people who act with more care for others, and we hope this spirit of ubuntu continues through 2021 as we stand together. Ultimately this spirit of ubuntu and caretaking is what CESA aims to promote to industry – to protect lives and livelihoods, and consider the tangible social and economic outcomes of our work.”
Unpacking the 2021 theme, Pillay highlighted the importance of democracy. “As we have seen recently in the US, democracies are precious and fragile, and need to be nurtured. Democracy will become less and less meaningful to those in our society that are stuck in poverty, with no access to basic services, and with no opportunities. Thus, as we embark on this massive rebuilding project, let us try to rebuild in a conscious and mindful manner, so that rebuilding doesn’t just become about providing infrastructure, but that it is consciously engineered to address poverty, inequality, and unemployment.”
Importantly, he said that as we rebuild, industry must be understanding of the immediate needs of society. “Without doubt, the most pressing requirement is the roll out of the COVID-19 vaccine. CESA encourages the industry to be patient and understanding as resources are diverted to funding the vaccine initiative. CESA and its members have the necessary skills and expertise to assist with the massive vaccine rollout undertaking, and offers it services to assist in this regard.
We need to be aware that municipal budgets set for infrastructure may be diverted. And we should stand ready to assist in infrastructure that might be prioritised, such as hospitals and clinics.” He called on industry to contribute where they can, to go beyond the call of duty, and work together with the state to address issues around resources and governance.
Pillay presented various opportunities which could be leveraged in 2021 to strengthen the industry and economy:
- Greater community involvement in the development of infrastructure, both new and maintained, for the benefit of end-users as well as the creation of jobs.
- A decentralised approach to spatial planning and development, spurred by the decreased emphasis on metros due to remote work and teleconferencing.
- Increased attention to agriculture and surrounding services, as the agriculture sector is performing well and surrounding areas are prime for development.
- Greater focus on maintenance, which is vital due to the poor performance of our infrastructure, as highlighted in the recent SAICE Infrastructure Report Card.
“For rebuilding to happen effectively, we need collaboration between all spheres of government. We need coordination between all role players, and we need to partner to build state capacity and ensure the necessary skills development takes place.” He highlighted the recent emphasis on professionalisation of the public service and said that CESA stands ready to support this initiative.
“In our efforts to rebuild, let us maintain our focus and purpose on doing so with quality and integrity. If we are to truly save lives and livelihoods, we must operate with an unwavering focus on value, reliability, and sustainability.” CESA’s emphasis on quality has been further highlighted by the new mandated management systems for CESA members based on international standards for quality, integrity, and sustainability. This demonstrates CESA’s commitment to accountability, which Pillay says he hopes to see reflected in public sector spheres.
Pillay also mentioned the Draft Public Procurement Bill which has seen industry lobby for a more transparent procurement process with decentralised authority structures to ensure the necessary checks and balances are in place. “CESA calls on policymakers to listen to the voices of industry and ensure the bill promotes integrity, localisation, transparency, and accountability,” he said.
Finally, Pillay suggested an “immune booster” in South Africa’s recovery plan: “The identified SIPS will play a decisive role in economic recovery, if they can break ground. Getting a few selected projects off the ground early will be valuable in giving impetus to the programme, providing reassurance to the public, and encouraging investment confidence in South Africa.”
Looking forward to industry developments, Pillay mentioned the upcoming CESA Annual Infrastructure Indaba, the FIDIC Africa Infrastructure Conference, as well as the newly formed Construction Alliance South Africa (CASA) as key in creating constructive engagements and industry coordination.
In conclusion, Pillay said that CESA is committed to contributing to effective and sustainable solutions, and will continue to guide its members and the industry at large towards more transparent and prosperous infrastructure delivery processes. “Every person in South Africa stands to benefit from this goal which would see improved use of taxpayers’ money, an appropriately capacitated state, and the delivery of safe and reliable national infrastructure offering a strong foundation for further economic growth. However, as Minister of Public Works and Infrastructure, Patricia de Lille said at our Infrastructure Indaba last year: ‘We need to start implementing, the patience of our people is running out!’ The preservation and deepening of our precious democracy will depend entirely on the success of our recovery.”
“Our task is not easy, as the nuances at play make for a bumpy road to recovery. Regardless, CESA will continue to actively engage through the relevant platforms and to remain your ‘Partner in enabling Consulting Engineering Excellence’,” concluded Pillay.