Construction sector sustainability: empowerment needs to be measured against sustainability

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Despite the ‘Construction Sector Charter Council – State of Empowerment 2009-2013’ offering an optimistic view of growth within the construction sector, Brian Africa, Executive: Marketing & Business Development at Performance and Customs Bond Services (PCBS), a specialist guarantee construction underwriting management agency, questions whether this growth is in fact sustainable.

“While PCBS’ own figures do show an encouraging trend towards the emergence of a growing number of black and woman owned companies in the sector, fluctuating employment figures, erratic movements in business confidence levels and the sporadic implementation of public infrastructure projects continue to impede the growth and sustainability of SMME contractors as well as the implantation of the skills development objective.

“The spike in liquidations of established construction companies including a few companies listed on the JSE illustrates that even empowered organisations fall victim to the effects of an industry that on the surface illustrates growth but in reality falls short of long-term sustainable growth,” he explains.

For Africa, sustainable growth within the construction sector requires the involvement of all stakeholders, including the end-user of basic social services. “Ultimately what is required is an ‘Infrastructure Codesa’ where stakeholders can collaborate to find a common solution to address the need for policy shift and put in place the procurement frameworks that will drive the implementation of the NDP particularly at municipal and local government level.

“With many industry sectors already having expressed interest, the private sector as a whole in association with industry bodies such as CESA, IMESA, SAICE and other relevant institutions have the necessary skills and resources to assist the public sector with the long overdue implementation of the NDP,” he comments.

Africa believes the urgency and extent of the skills shortages at municipal and local government level, is illustrated through the results of a recent municipal poll the results of which were published in a City Press article on 23 February 2014. “Here, municipalities spanning six provinces indicated that 40 percent of their municipal managers and 34 percent of their CFOs had met Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan’s deadline to acquire the appropriate qualifications.

“In addition, then treasury spokesperson, Phumza Macanda, said that 269 of the 278 municipalities have applied for an extension to the deadline on the grounds that they had taken reasonable steps towards compliance, including having officials registering for relevant training, but still needed more time to complete their courses,” he adds.

Further, compounding sector growth according to Africa, is the growing rift between the public and private sector largely owing to the outcome of the construction collusion investigation. “Rather than allowing the rift to continue, it should rather be seen as an opportunity to fast-track public private partnerships which is a viable means to mitigate the reoccurrence of this type of collusive behaviour.

“In addition PPPs will greatly enhance and promote skills exchange and ultimately a much-needed paradigm shift, based on the reality that all South Africans, whether unemployed or employed by the private or public sector, have a duty to be part of the change that improves the quality of life of all South Africans. The bottom line is that the time has come for the prevailing understanding of empowerment to be measured against the sustainability of the empowerment,” he concludes.