DURBAN – The South African government’s Memorandum of Agreement on a R100 million boost for the national Infrastructure Fund is a welcome development, signalling the opportunity for South Africa to fast track economic recovery and dramatically and permanently improve the lives of all South Africans.
It comes at an opportune time, when the Covid-19 pandemic has already drawn a line at the end of the ‘old normal’ and now presents ideal conditions for a ‘Great Reset’ as outlined by the World Economic Forum.
However, while South Africa aligns with the world in recognising the importance of infrastructure development for socio-economic development, it is crucial that the country approaches this new development programme mindfully and inclusively, considering its impacts and potential benefits for all South Africans and future generations.
To maximise the potential of our infrastructure development programme, there are key factors that should be taken into account:
Proper planning eliminates risk, ensures projects run cost effectively and efficiently, and – crucially – allows for benefits to be built into the projects beyond the scope of works. Planning in consultation with stakeholders across the board can allow for infrastructure to not only serve its basic purpose, but also support the development of integrated, sustainable and future-proof built environments, for example. Partnerships across public and private sector and academia can bring a wealth of knowledge into the planning process to ensure that any infrastructure developed today serves the needs of future generations.
Traditional procurement and project lead times can extend to years. However, no economy has the luxury of waiting years – or even decades – to reap the benefits of infrastructure development programmes, particularly post-Covid-19, when our economy is particularly fragile. We need to move quickly.
Through our extensive experience in consulting on major built environment infrastructure projects, we know that the entire industry should already be working around the clock, preparing to begin work on the ambitious infrastructure development programme. Yet the industry is ominously quiet. Whether this signals a slow start, it is not a good sign. The national infrastructure development programme is far reaching enough to revive and grow the entire industry, and should present ample opportunities for all stakeholders. Yet large and small industry players are standing by, ready to begin work. Many are closing their doors. Jobs are being lost instead of created. Time to action must be speeded up to allow for business growth and fast-track the delivery of the benefits to the nation.
If the infrastructure development programme is to deliver on its socio-economic development objectives, diversity and inclusivity must be embedded at every stage. This is the ideal time to create more diversity in the sector, allocating work to smaller, empowered firms. There will be ample work to go around and not enough key skills to meet the needs of the programme. By allocating tenders to smaller companies, the infrastructure development programme will gain the benefits of entrepreneurial innovation, agility and an understanding of the needs in local communities, as well as creating jobs and potentially reigniting economic development in smaller centres and rural areas.
A key element of this is the opportunity we now have to stimulate skills development that goes far beyond temporary job creation. It is important to frame our projects and spend in such a way that legitimate, long term skills transfer and development takes place across the country. We need to ensure that carefully crafted programmes result in legitimate development of portable skills.
The infrastructure development programme must also build inclusivity into its long-term vision: developments must support sustainable smart cities and towns that make access to services available to all, and create an enabling environment for economic development for everyone, across the country.
To ensure future-proof, sustainable infrastructure that supports the needs of future generations, we have to be innovative in our planning now. We need to look at innovative solutions like new technologies and smarter built environment models that deliver robust systems to service everyone’s needs. This is the time for cross-sector partnerships between the public and private sector and academia, to both stimulate and tap into research and development and innovation.
As a proudly South African company, MPAMOT is enthusiastic about the prospect of contributing our skills to developing infrastructure that creates a sustainable and lasting legacy for future South Africans. It is crucial that all stakeholders involved in delivering on the infrastructure development programme remain cognisant of the changing needs of society. The infrastructure we put in place now must be sustainably delivered and environmentally friendly, it must incorporate innovation, green technologies and materials, and renewable energy. It needs to create sustainable, integrated cities and towns that enable circular economies and allow for equitable access to transport, schools, shops and services. What we build now must be future proof and leave no-one behind.
Malani Padayachee-Saman is the chief executive officer of MPAMOT and an engineer of over 29 years
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