Urgent need to fix trust deficit
Public-private partnership is SA’S only way forward
ý While there has long been talk about how to enable infrastructure projects in SA more effectively, the talk has not traditionally translated into action. The establishment of the Infrastructure Fund in 2018 was expected to galvanise more activity around infrastructure.
Even before the Covid-19 crisis, the government recognised the need to prioritise infrastructure investment as a vehicle to speed up sluggish economic growth. It also recognised that due to limited fiscal space it would need to partner with the private sector.
The economic fallout as a result of the pandemic puts the state’s finances in an even more precarious position. So essentially, the only way the government can invest in infrastructure projects is if it partners with the private sector to provide the necessary funds.
“Covid-19 and a double credit ratings downgrade combined to form a perfect storm for an already ailing economy,” says Consulting Engineers SA (Cesa) CEO Chris Campbell. “Added to this is a growing realisation in the government that the only option left to SA is to use infrastructure as a lever to kick-start the economy.”
Campbell says he is encouraged by a renewed willingness from the government to interact with the private sector, and a realisation on both sides that we cannot do this alone. He also believes Kgosientso Ramokgopa, the head of the investment & infrastructure office (IIO) in the presidency and a qualified engineer, is the right person to be leading the initiative.
Infrastructure investment, says Campbell, has to be done with
Chris Campbell: Sees a willingness from the government to embrace the private sector value for money in mind, and by establishing the total cost of ownership, including maintenance.
“For too long SA has not factored maintenance into the total cost of ownership of infrastructure assets. However, without the necessary maintenance the asset will require even higher costs and possibly even need to be replaced earlier than it should have been.”
SA can no longer afford to adopt counterintuitive approaches, he says. “We should rather be paying top dollar for a lasting solution than settling for the cheapest option which costs more in the long run.”
On several occasions Cesa has offered to help in engineering capacity-building processes for municipalities — an offer that has never been taken up. Despite a critical shortage of engineering expertise within the public sector, the private sector does have engineering capacity.