Minister of Economic Development Ebrahim Patel. Photo: Gareth Smit

The Infrastructure Development Bill will establish the legislative tools and a 30-year planning time frame for South Africa’s biggest public infrastructure programme, says Economic Development Minister Ebrahim Patel.

The draft law is before the parliamentary economic development committee.

It will hear from interested parties ranging from Business Unity South Africa, the SA Local Government Association, labour federation Cosatu and various community, environmental and legal organisations.

Speaking to the Cape Times yesterday, Patel said the bill was based on lessons and experiences drawn from the delivery of stadiums as well as transport-related and other infrastructure for the 2010 World Cup.

The bill effectively establishes in law the presidential infrastructure co-ordinating commission (Picc), which has been in place since the cabinet established it in July 2011, as the statutory body overseeing strategic infrastructure projects, or SIPs. Described as the “engine rooms”, each of these SIPs – there are currently 18, but the numbers could increase – facilitates and co-ordinates infrastructure projects which, according to the bill, are of “significant economic or social importance” or “contribute substantially” to any national infrastructure-related policy.

Patel said the bill followed some “experimentation” and fine-tuning of the across-the-state implementing, planning and budgeting processes which were pioneered by the Picc.

“With experimentation, we saw what works and we are now capturing this in legislation,” he said.

Infrastructure delivery remains central to government planning and efforts to boost economic growth, with R1 trillion spent over the past five years.

With the bill’s aim of co-ordination and facilitation, it emerges as key to ending government departments’ silo mentality, which in the past often stalled projects.

The SIPs are headed by individual ministers and bring together national and provincial officials and executive metro mayors so that implementation, finances and political will are co-ordinated.

“We will be working together to get projects off the ground… We don’t want just rails and roads, but factories, offices and research laboratories. We want to modernise the economy,” said Patel, adding that key to this would be skills development and industrialisation, particularly through local procurement.

Once the Infrastructure Development Bill was law, he said, public infrastructure projects would also serve as training grounds.

With vast sums of money invested, and to be invested, the bill’s anti-corruption measures include a disclosure regimen for those serving on the SIPs steering committees, echoing the proposed ban on public servants from doing business with the state.

No one may serve on such a committee if he or she or a family member would benefit directly or indirectly from the project.

In his 2013 Budget, Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan allocated R827 billion over three years to infrastructure delivery.

This came on the back of what Patel described as the “historic” infrastructure spend of R1 trillion since 2009, as actual infrastructure spending over the past five years effectively doubled from between 2004 and 2009. - Cape Town