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Article by: Petronel Smit
Published: 06 Apr 2011
|Infrastructure maintenance could create ‘jobs for life’|
Infrastructure maintenance could account for many of the much-needed five-million jobs that South Africa is looking to create in the next ten years, says the South African Institution of Civil Engineering (Saice).
Saice’s second infrastructure report card, published on Tuesday, rated infrastructure development in ten sectors, namely drinking water systems, sanitation, roads, railways, airports, ports, electricity reticulation, hospitals, clinics and schools during the past five years at a “satisfactory for now” C-, marginally up from the “less than satisfactory” D+ that was awarded by the previous report card of 2006.
However, it added that the improvement was off a very low base.
Convenor of the 2011 report Sam Amod said this marginal average improvement reflected government’s ongoing investment in infrastructure, and was influenced by the heavy investment in, particularly large national assets, such as ports, rail, airports and national roads.
“This investment is laudable, but it is not sufficient without a corresponding commitment to maintenance so that new and existing infrastructure is sustained. Although infrastructure has, on the whole, improved, much of the basic social infrastructure necessary to the daily lives of South Africans is unchanged or deteriorating,” he noted.
Saice stated that building infrastructure is a once-off job, but that maintaining it could create jobs for life, as this is ongoing. No infrastructure can last without maintenance, as is evident in the deterioration of quality and reliable basic infrastructure serving citizens.
“Because construction generates more jobs per rand spent than almost any other sector of the economy, this investment appears to satisfy development needs, as well as a driving priority of our developing country: job creation.”
The report card further found that the allocation of maintenance funding was with very few exceptions simply insufficient, particularly in circumstances where it was expected also to cater for a maintenance regime that had led to neglect.
“All too frequently the inadequacy of the allocation is compounded by poor management which results in these meagre funds going unspent.”
Amod also believed that South Africa’s global competitiveness is constrained by infrastructure constraints.
“Investment in infrastructure could result in economic development and job creation, but was not managed efficiently thus far. Government was not focused on life-cycle costing, but on capital projects, and failed to procure for best outcome, rather focusing on immediate needs instead of long-term solutions,” he noted.
He added that, since 2006, the public profile of deteriorating or dysfunctional infrastructure has increased significantly, while South Africans largely ignored the country’s sustainability needs.
“All citizens are responsible for sustainability and should take ownership of infrastructure by recycling waste, conserving water and moving towards a 'user pays'-system,” Amod said.
Government’s response to the previous, 2006 report card was described as “mature”, as it wanted to engage with Saice and showed an understanding of the fact that infrastructure development was the basis of economic development.
However, Saice pointed out that the challenge lay with the actioning of these good intentions, particularly at municipal level, where there were a lack of skills, compliance and auditing.
“It comes down to good management and political will. Government is not taking maintenance seriously, it is making the right noises and drafting the right policies, but failing in its responsibility to make it happen. Saice hopes to create some continuous engagement with government.”
According to Amod, the first rule in managing change, is creating urgency. South Africa showed with the 2010 FIFA World Cup that it is capable of creating change in a short period of time.
When delving deeper into specific infrastructure sectors, the report card showed that the C- grade hid significant variations in the condition and performance of infrastructure in each sector. Water quality, for example, was excellent in the metropolitan areas, but frequently inadequate in many of the more rural areas, including small towns.
The shortage of skilled staff and the lack of maintenance had already emerged as the two key themes across all sectors in the 2006 report card. Saice noted that the skills challenge would require a long-term solution, and infrastructure, once created, must be maintained.
From the evaluation, skills constraints notwithstanding, bold leadership and effective management were identified as irreplaceable ingredients for successful and sustainable infrastructure provision.
“The quality and reliability of basic infrastructure serving the majority of our citizens is poor and getting worse. Urgent attention is required to stabilise and improve it. This should be of great concern to all South Africans,” Amod concluded.