The gap between infrastructure ambition and implementation is now widening faster than the country’s power utility is able to shift its load-shedding stages from two to four.
While the electricity generation shortfall of up to 6 000 MW is the most high-profile backlog not being closed, a report by Moneyweb that the South African National Roads Agency Limited (Sanral) cancelled adjudicated tenders worth more than R17-billion sent fresh shockwaves.
The news was all the more startling given that some of the affected contracts, such as the Mtentu Bridge, form part of programmes that have been designated as Strategic Integrated Projects (SIPs) by the Presidential Infrastructure Coordinating Commission.
Such projects are supposedly being prioritised and fast-tracked as part of the country’s Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Programme, itself launched to respond to the economic devastation wrought by the Covid pandemic.
In addition, they are the flagship developments being overseen by Infrastructure South Africa, which has been established specifically to catalyse infrastructure investment and to meet the infrastructure targets outlined in the National Development Plan.
Moneyweb reports that the adjudicated tenders have been cancelled “due to a material irregularity in the tender process where a resolution made by the board in January 2020 was not implemented in the evaluation of the said tenders”.
In principle, catching a governance breach before allowing it to escalate into a possible lengthy legal contestation is a positive thing.
However, the delay is devastating for road users and contractors, many of which are struggling to recover from a protracted period of underinvestment, amplified by the pandemic.
It also points to a broader theme of a failure to progress much-needed projects to physical implementation – one that is cutting across all infrastructure subsectors currently.
Besides the failure of more than 35 electricity projects to progress to implementation following two much publicised procurement processes, the market reform that created a 50-plus pipeline of embedded-generation projects remains tied up in ludicrous red tape.
Transnet has few visible short-term solutions to its infrastructure and rolling stock deficits, which have been exacerbated by rampant crime and the recent deadly floods in KwaZulu-Natal. And while the utility is starting to open freight networks to private participants, the poor design of some of these offers is likely to see them falling well short of their objectives.
The less said about the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa’s recovery strategy the better, while Eskom has, until recently, not received the financial and procurement support needed to properly tackle the coal fleet maintenance backlog.
Again, several of these projects are SIP-designated, which means the logjams continue despite interventions such as Infrastructure South Africa.
In other words, either attention is being given to the wrong issues, or there is an over-reliance on high-level reform announcements and too little attention being given to what is really required from a legal, regulatory, and policy perspective to get shovels in the ground.
Until the devil is fully slain in the details, the infrastructure roll-out will remain bedevilled.