Johannesburg - An estimated 3.4 million job opportunities could be created in the next three years if the National Development Plan (NDP) infrastructure expenditure objective of R1.1 trillion, or 10 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), was achieved, Consulting Engineers SA (Cesa) said yesterday.

But Abe Thela, Cesa’s president, said yesterday that it was highly unlikely the entire amount would be spent, taking into account the challenges of poor planning in the government, the lack of technical capability in the public sector, the lack of funding allocations and corruption.

Thela added that KPMG had estimated that 2.4 million job opportunities could be created in the next three years if the whole medium-term expenditure framework budget of R827 billion was spent.

He said the job opportunities included direct employment through infrastructure projects, indirect employment opportunities due to spending in other sectors, such as suppliers of materials to the projects, and the induced knock-on effect resulting from workers spending their income and creating additional employment opportunities in the retail sector.

Thela said the government planned to grow the economy and triple GDP by 2030, and the consulting engineering industry had a significant role to play in achieving this growth through infrastructure provision.

But Thela stressed a number of challenges that needed to be addressed as a matter of urgency to enhance the consulting engineering industry’s role in infrastructure development and meeting the NDP’s goals.

These related to the procurement of consulting engineering services; access to work opportunities by emerging and small consulting engineering firms; infrastructure investment; the regulatory environment; lack of capacity; corruption; and education.

In regard to infrastructure investment and poor, or a lack of, maintenance of existing infrastructure, Thela said Cesa proposed the creation of a dedicated national municipal infrastructure maintenance fund and the staffing of municipal maintenance teams with experienced technicians.

He said the premature failure of infrastructure due to a lack of, or poor, maintenance put pressure on strained government infrastructure budgets, with costs associated with maintenance a fraction of reconstruction costs once the infrastructure had collapsed.

“It also disrupts service delivery, which contributes to rampant service delivery strikes and contributes to a decline in investor confidence,” he said.

Thela said Cesa saw this fund being funded by the government because municipalities were unable to do so.

He said Cesa had not yet discussed its proposal with the government but intended to do so and had identified the SA Local Government Association as the first point of entry to start these discussions.

Thela said the biggest challenge facing the consulting engineering industry related to government procurement regulations on the basis of price and broad-based BEE, with functionality/quality only used as a minimum pre-qualification threshold.

He said this approach reduced consulting engineering services to a commodity with the value dependent on the availability of work. - Business Report