The writer sayd Sanral has been upfront and transparent about the regulatory difficulties we experienced in the issuing of new contracts for road construction, rehabilitation and maintenance. Photo: Itumeleng English/African News Agency (ANA)
JOHANNESBURG – It has become fashionable to blame everything – and anything – that ails the local construction industry on Sanral (SA National Roads Agency Ltd).

Thus, construction companies ascribe their weak annual results and failure to report profits primarily to Sanral’s supposed failure to issue tenders for road construction projects. And when they, sadly, have to retrench workers or cut down on their wage bills, Sanral becomes the convenient scapegoat.

We saw it again recently when a major construction company, Raubex, announced retrenchments following the publication of declining results and a drop in profits. For some reason Sanral was singled out as the source of all its woes by a company that recently boasted about its achievements in diversifying its business in sectors other than road construction.

Sanral has been upfront and transparent about the regulatory difficulties we experienced in the issuing of new contracts for road construction, rehabilitation and maintenance.

We fully understand the critical role that we play in the construction and engineering sectors and that is why we worked tirelessly with National Treasury to find workable solutions to break the impasse.

Throughout this process we kept our partners in industry, large and emerging businesses, contractors, suppliers and labour, informed about the issues to the point where we could announce in September that solutions had been found and we would be able to resume the issuing of contracts.

But it is clearly unfair and irresponsible to blame Sanral as the primary source of the industry’s woes without also putting the spotlight on other contributory issues.

These range from macro-economic issues like the current downturn to company-specific issues that might be ascribed to weak management, uninspiring leadership, cost overruns or missed deadlines.

It is, equally, not true to imply that all Sanral work has come to a halt. If you read through our 2018 Integrated Report, there is an extensive breakdown of construction and maintenance projects commissioned by Sanral and its concessionaires that are either under way or in the pipeline.

We are issuing multibillion-rand tenders on the N2 Wild Coast project, including the construction of two of Africa’s largest bridges.

We are busy with the major rehabilitation of Moloto Road.

Broken ground

There is construction taking place on the N8 in the Free State, on the N4 near Brits, near the OR Tambo Interchange in Mpumalanga and we have broken ground on the upgraded N1 section near the Beit Bridge Border Post.

The record also shows that the Raubex Group is a primary contractor on many of these projects.

At Sanral we are encouraged by the announcements made by President Cyril Ramaphosa in the past six weeks on investments in infrastructure as a catalyst for growth, job creation and local economic development.

We have spent considerable time and effort to refocus Sanral’s organisation through appointments in leadership positions and the drafting of a new strategic vision, Horizon 2030.

We have consulted widely with industry and civil society on our new policy on the transformation of the construction and engineering sectors and how to ensure emerging enterprises and black-owned companies can grow from perennial subcontractors to primary contractors on future road building projects.

We still hope that the major players in the construction, engineering and consulting sectors will publicly embrace the initiatives announced by Ramaphosa to invest in infrastructure as a powerful catalyst for growth and the efforts by Sanral to prepare shovel-ready road construction projects.

In the past month we have demonstrated the value of partnerships in our sector with the signing of agreements with major suppliers of equipment and logistical services. They will use their position in the market to give emerging contractors some hand-ups to procure and lease equipment and Sanral will support them through access to training, supply chains and information about tender processes.

Clearly, this is the road to follow if we want to grow the engineering and construction sectors in South Africa. Partnerships will contribute to the delivery of vital infrastructure to communities and, eventually, to better results for construction companies.

Finger-pointing at Sanral will not place a single shovel in the ground.

Skhumbuzo Macozoma is the chief executive of Sanral.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of Independent Media.