17 May 2016
Note to Editors: The following debate was delivered by DA Spokesperson on Roads and Public Works, Melinda Hattingh (MPL), during a sitting of the Northern Cape Provincial Legislature in Kimberley today.
Members of the House
Expanding and improving infrastructure such as roads, bridges, buildings and other facilities must always be a priority that is managed with the utmost care, efficiency, expertise and innovation.
This is because the built environment remains the backbone of any developed or developing economy, employing thousands of workers and facilitating opportunities for the expansion of opportunity.
The Northern Cape Department of Roads and Public Works therefore has a very important mandate to fulfill. Worryingly, however, the department does not have a good track record in this regard.
In the 2014/2015 financial year, the department only completed 39% of its construction projects and 25% of maintenance projects within the agreed budget. A number of projects were also not completed within the set time frame.
It is then not surprising that the department is not an implementing agent of choice and that user departments don’t utilize the services of Public Works because they want to, but rather because their options are limited.
Given the highly specialized skills that make up the construction industry, and the ever growing complexity within the construction industry, it is more important than ever that this department ensures that it has the right people steering the ship.
In fact, this should be the number one priority for the department.
The department has very recently beefed up its senior management team with an additional four chief directors and general staff appointments are also set to grow from 861 to 937 in 2016/2017.
The number of engineering professionals, however, is only due to increase from 44 to 46 in 2016/2017 and is then set to remain stagnant over the next three year term.
We know that the skills shortage is a challenge, not only for the Department of Roads & Public Works but for all built environment sectors in South Africa when it comes to obtaining the services of appropriately qualified staff with technical skills in engineering, architectural services, quantity surveying, project management and so forth.
This is a very serious skills shortage indeed and it will continue to have an adverse effect on the department’s ability to deliver on key infrastructure projects that are critical for development. It may even cripple our economy, if not countered.
The department therefore needs to do more to address this challenge.
The department could start by cutting back on inflated salaries for chief directors, who do not possess the requisite skills that we have referred to, and use these top management salaries to instead lure and retain professionals by offering pay packages that compete fairly with the private sector.
To help fund competitive salaries for professionals, the department must also limit the appointment of non-critical administrative staff.
I am aware that the department has set aside R1,622 million for bursaries for 14 first-year students. But is this really a big enough investment in skills development?
If the department manages to employ two additional professionals this financial year, and if all 14 students graduate in four years time, then the department will still be short of at least three professionals.
But what if current employees retire or resign, and what if not all 14 bursary holders graduate? Also, the department can’t retain the skills of bursary holders indefinitely.
The department must therefore take a more strategic approach to creating a sustainable supply of professionals over the long term.
In this regard, I hope that the department reprioritizes its budget for training and development over the MTEF to enable an additional 14 first-year students to commence studies in 2017/18 and 2018/2019 as well.
This will be an invaluable investment, not only for the department itself, but also for the future of the entire built environment of South Africa and for citizens everywhere.
This is because a department with the right people in place will be able to improve the department’s performance in terms of building and maintaining schools, health facilities and also very importantly, our road network.
A good road network is not only important for economic growth and development, but it is also used by millions of ordinary South Africans to travel to work and school on a daily basis.
Unfortunately, the Northern Cape’s road network leaves much to be desired.
In its Annual Performance Plan, the department indicates that they have a major shortfall when it comes to funding of roads and that they need an additional R530 million to maintain paved and unpaved roads at reasonable levels.
The shortfall for gravel roads is even greater and the department indicates that it would need approximately R13,6 billion to upgrade high traffic gravel roads to paved standards.
This is worrying.
Only last week, a truck carrying nuclear waste broke down on the bumpy stretch of gravel road that leads from Springbok to Vaalputs, which is the only radio-active waste-disposal facility in the whole of South Africa.
Farmers, who have long since been complaining of the dangers of allowing trucks, carrying loads of nuclear waste, to travel on this poor quality road, confiscated the keys of the truck in protest of a lack of action by government to address this very serious issue.
While this matter is now finally receiving national attention, it serves to highlight the importance of ensuring a safe network of paved and gravel roads in the Northern Cape.
It also serves to highlight the need for this department, as the lead agent of roads, to take responsibility for the oversight of all the roads in the Northern Cape, regardless of whether they ultimately fall under SANRAL, municipalities or the provincial department.
It also brings me to the issue of asbestos roads in the province.
The completion date for the rehabilitation of all asbestos roads has been set as 31 March 2025.
The Northern Cape, however, has 800 kilometers worth of asbestos polluted roads and can only rehabilitate 5 kilometers a year, with an annual budget of R12 million from the Provincial Roads Maintenance Grant.
The big question that needs to be asked is how, at this rate, does the department intend meeting this very important target?
The department owes it to the thousands who have suffered due to asbestos related disease, and their families, to ensure that asbestos contamination does not leave a lasting legacy in the Northern Cape.
Hon. Speaker, the Department of Roads and Public Works is entrusted with a massive responsibility. This is because the department is the custodian of the entire immovable property profile of the province which entails 1771 assets valued at over R37 billion.
That translates into many land parcels and many buildings.
Buildings may not be organic of nature but they do take on a life of their own. And while they do not need to be fed or watered, they do have to be maintained. Otherwise, they will slowly fall into a state of disrepair that, like our roads and our bridges, will eventually become too costly to repair.
It is thus extremely concerning that the department has still not completed a Custodian-Asset Management Plan.
It is understood that the department is dependent on user departments submitting their User-Asset Management Plans in order to finalize the Custodian- Asset Management Plan. However, the submission of such an important plan to Treasury cannot be delayed for another year. I thus recommend that the department takes this matter up with the Hon. Premier, who should in turn hold all MEC’s accountable for ensuring that their departments achieve this non-negotiable target.
With regards to immovable assets, I also want to encourage the department to be innovative in your custodial duties concerning the property assets of the Northern Cape.
The department has indicated in its APP that it will embark on disposing certain ageing and unused immovable assets.
I urge the department to please make responsible and informed decisions in this regard.
There are success stories on the use of government assets to unlock sufficient value to finance the building of new facilities or the maintenance of others or even of meeting government’s social objectives. However, there are also negative instances where assets with potential infrastructure revenues have been sold off without creating sustainable value.
Hon. Speaker, everything that this department does should be about value for money, whether it’s leasing in, leasing out, selling off or even procuring.
This brings me to my last point.
I want to raise my hopes and concerns regarding the National Treasury Instruction no.4 of 2015/2016 on the “Standard for infrastructure procurement and delivery management”.
The underlying notion of the “Standard for infrastructure procurement and delivery management” is that effective and efficient functioning of the supply chain management system for the procurement and delivery of infrastructure, will realize value for money and good quality service delivery.
I wish to welcome this procurement and supply chain reform which, given the limited fiscus, seeks to ensure that all investment in infrastructure must ultimately contribute in some way to economic growth.
The department’s APP is, however, silent on this Standard. I am therefore concerned about the department’s readiness to implement this standard, which is set to come into effect as from 1 June 2016.
I want to propose that, in future, the department designs credible indicators and targets to showcase the implementation of this standard.
Had this Standard been operational 10 years ago, it could well have prevented the catastrophic flop of the new mental health hospital. I hope that going forward, the department will use this standard to avoid similar, costly infrastructure failures.
Spokesperson on Roads and Public Works
082 494 6648
Shelley de Wit
082 847 1387