Minister of Public Works and Infrastructure Patricia de Lille. Picture: Tracey Adams/African News Agency (ANA) Archives
Minister of Public Works and Infrastructure Patricia de Lille. Picture: Tracey Adams/African News Agency (ANA) Archives

Lack of skills in SA led to employment of Cubans – Public Works Department

By Tarryn-Leigh Solomons Time of article published Jul 13, 2021

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Cape Town - The Department of Public Works and Infrastructure are sticking to their guns as they reiterate that their reason for employing Cuban nationals as technical advisors and not South Africans, has to do with the inability to attract and retain skills in these technical fields, where the department has been facing challenges in terms of filling vacancies in these areas.

In response to a Parliamentary question from the DA, the department’s minister Patricia De Lille revealed that 24 Cuban nationals are employed by the department with each employee receiving a salary of R1 125 725 in the 2020/21 financial year.

The DA’s Samatha Graham Mare says she will be writing to De Lille to request a detailed breakdown of exactly which projects are making use of these technical advisors and what the skills requirement is of each position.

“Minister De Lille motivates the situation by stating that there has been a dearth of the relevant skills available in South Africa and as a result, they have had to import these highly specialised skills from Cuba. The list of specialised skills includes engineering, construction project management and facilities management,” said Graham.

One of the entities under the department is the Council for the Built Environment (CBE).

In turn, the CBE oversees the activities of five Councils which include inter alia the Engineering Council of South Africa (ECSA), the South African Council for Architectural Professionals (SACAP) and the South African Council for Project and Construction Management Professionals (SACPCMP).

Mare argued that the SACPCMP has over 11 000 registered professionals in its database, ECSA has over 55 000 registered members and SACAP has 11 000 members. “It is, thus, inconceivable that the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure was unable to locate 24 professionals from amongst the more than 7 000 registered members within its own entities to provide technical advice.

“It is also abhorrent that South Africa is importing people to work in the midst of the worst unemployment crisis our democratic dispensation has faced. Minister De Lille has spoken ad nauseum about her plans for infrastructure-led growth to boost job creation and yet her Department is spending millions on foreign workers.”

In her response to questions by DA MP Ghaleb Cachalia, De Lille defended the employment of the foreign technical advisors and said “challenges in these critical technical areas are mainly attributed to an inability to attract and retain skills in these technical fields”.

She also said there were no plans to employ new Cubans during the 2021-23 medium-term expenditure framework period. The current cohort employment contract will end in November 2021.

The department’s Thami Mchunu said the Cubans are executing engineering works (civil structural, geologist, mechanical and electrical), facilities conditions assessments works and construction project management works.

“Technical skills that the Cuban Technical Advisors possess are Structural, Geologist, Mechanical, Electrical, Construction Project Management and Facilities Management specialising in State and Social Infrastructure. The recruited skills are aligned to the Department of Higher Education and Training’s (DHET) List of Occupations in High Demand 2015 gazetted on 19 January 2016.”

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Political Bureau

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