Construction on a bridge in Burnett Street. Picture: Damaris Helwig

Roy Cokayne

CONSULTING Engineers South Africa (Cesa) has decided to become more aggressive in challenging procedural deviations from procurement processes and alleged corruption by challenging irregular tender awards on behalf of its members.

Cesa chief executive Graham Pirie confirmed on Friday that its board had taken this decision on Tuesday and its first case was already in the pipeline. However, he declined to provide further details at this stage about the specific tender award Cesa would be challenging.

“Corruption is pretty serious and one of the biggest issues confronting our industry and the country at this time,” Pirie said.

Cesa has 480 member companies, which employ more than 22 000 people and have collective earnings of almost R20 billion a year.

Pirie said Cesa had been challenging deviations from the legislative requirements for the way services for the public sector were procured and had been handling about 50 cases a month or 600 a year, with support from the Construction Industry Development Board and “when it was quite serious” also alerting National Treasury.

Although Cesa had influence, its board felt it needed to do something more assertive and to have a bigger impact, Pirie said.

Cesa had made other interventions to try and root out corruption in the consulting engineering industry, including making it compulsory for its members to subscribe to an integrity management system.

Cesa believes procurement legislation should include a bribery and corruption act, such as the UK Bribery Act of 2010, enabling the courts to prosecute corruption and related issues more effectively as well as the naming and shaming of firms contravening the requirements of the act.

Pirie expressed concern about the criticism by auditor-general Terence Nombembe of the government’s use of consultants.

A report by Nombembe last week revealed consultants had made R102bn out of the government in the three years from 2008/09 until 2010/11.

Pirie said this report painted a picture of a greedy private sector feeding off the government, which was not true of consulting engineers.

He believed a distinction needed to be made between the different kinds of consultants.

“With the migration of expertise out of the public sector, it did not have the capacity to fulfil its role as it should and it was vital that consulting engineers gave it support,” he said.

Pirie said the biggest stumbling block to infrastructure delivery was the lack of business integrity, which involved among other things socialising with clients, conflicts of interest, the use of agents and partners, collusion and bribery and the disregard of procurement regulations.

SA Federation of Civil Engineering Contractors executive director Neville Gurry said it would be disastrous for the construction industry if the government stopped using engineering consultants.

He believed the problem was the misuse of consultants, stressing the government needed a technical person or engineer to evaluate the reports of consultants.

The government frequently used expatriate consultants, Gurry said, adding that Eskom had appointed a US organisation to look at its 25-year plan but this organisation was using local resources because it did not know the country.