City of Joburg insists that new online municipal submission system won’t lead to job losses
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Johannesburg - The City of Joburg’s roll-out of an online submission system at their municipal offices could leave hundreds of external consultants without employment.
The “runners” who analyse, compile and submit building plans and alterations for the city’s architects, engineering firms as well as private property owners fear that they will be excluded when the new Construction Permit Management System go live, expectedly later this.
This is as the new system requires them to be registered with the SA Council For The Architectural Profession (Sacap), a process which many of these informal workers deem lengthy and expensive.
External consultant Simon Zikayo, who has many clients in Johannesburg but is not Sacap registered, is one of them.
“Myself and many other runners are afraid that we are going to lose our income and our livelihoods if the new system goes ahead as planned,” he said.
Zikayo explained that his main source of income comes from submitting building plans to the municipal office.
The external consultant does not understand why there is such an urgent need for this application process to go online, as it currently allows submissions to be made via email as well as with hard copies which are handed over to the municipal office.
He said that this does not require anyone who wishes to make submissions to have a Sacap number and that architects and building owners don’t have to waste their time doing this, creating employment opportunities for himself and other runners.
Another external consultant who spoke to The Saturday Star on condition of anonymity is also concerned about the upcoming digital submission process.
While she is able to apply for a Sacap number as a draftsman due to her prior experience in the interior design industry and under the mentorship of her architect father, she fears not all runners will be so lucky.
“Many of these external consultants don't have a recognition of prior learning background to fall back on and in order for them to apply for a Sacap number, they will have to complete many courses which are expensive and time consuming,” she said.
Those eligible for Sacap registration in order to make submissions for the municipality’s new digital system are only architects, draftsmen and architectural technologists.
“The city is closing so many doors for external consultants and could lead to up to 300 people out of work,” she warned.
The external consultant is also concerned that the new system could open up new lines of fraud.
“The online system requires digital signatures which could be difficult to prove which is original and which is not.”
She added that leaving architects to apply for their own building submissions will leave them with far less time to do their actual work.
“They will now have less time for drawing and availability and will have to deal with checking documentation, making corrections and then submissions.
“Not all of them have the capacity to do this and we as external consultants cut their work by two thirds when we are able to make the submissions on their behalf.”
Another external consultant, who wishes to not be named, is also worried about how his fellow runners are going to cope with the municipal system changes.
While he is employed at an architectural firm and can use his superior’s Sacap number to make submissions on their behalf, he also knows that many others are not as fortunate.
“Many people are employed by making these submissions and I really hope that we don’t see them become unemployed because there is enough work to go around for all of us in regards to building submissions.
“People already don't like change and pushing for the implementation of a system that many are not comfortable with is an issue,” he said.
However, the external consultant understands that the intention of the new system is to make the entire process smooth but warns against excluding those who rely on building submissions as a source of income.
Meanwhile, the other external consultant agreed that the process could be smoother and that she understood the need to eliminate paper copies from the process but she insisted that it could still be altered to include all those who work in the industry.
“We are trying to work with the municipality but we are just asking for them to work with us and not against us,” she said.
Despite the uproar over the new online submission system, the City of Joburg (CoJ) insisted that no municipal staff members would lose their job as a result of the new system.
“People won't be losing their jobs, that's not true,” COJ chief specialist communications and stakeholder liaison officer Poppy Louw said.
She explained that the new system was to improve operational efficiencies, cutting cost and associated logistics, thereby making it easy to do business with the City.
“No municipal staff member will lose their jobs as a result of the implementation of the system, all affected officials are being reskilled and assigned new roles within the department.”
Louw said that the city was introducing the new system in order to modernise the current Site Development and Building Plan permit system.
“To do this, the City is doing away with using paper-based applications, manual processing and capturing, and introducing a web-based application system, specifically designed for building permit purposes,” said Louw.
The new Construction Permit Management System, according to Louw, will allow applicants to submit their building plans applications online.
“In addition, the payment and processing of the application will be streamlined through a workflow that integrates with a mobile-based inspection application that facilitates the reduction in steps, turnaround times, and the automatic issuance of Certificate of Occupancy and other related permits.”
Louw added that the new web-based system development is at an advanced stage towards implementation, with the final user acceptance, integration, and security tests currently being conducted.
“In order to reduce the number of referrals and hold registered professionals accountable for quality submissions of building plans, they are required to register as users of the system; login to the system, whereby their credentials are validated against Sacap; and only if they are in good standing, will they be able to submit the building plan applications.
“This is as per the provisions of the Sacap Act that anyone practicing architecture must be registered. It is therefore prescriptive for practicing persons to be registered.
“All categories of registration are eligible for submission of building plan applications i.e. professional architects, senior professional architectural technologist, professional architectural technologist and architectural draftsman, excludes candidates in all categories.”
She added that the main aim of the new system was to improve operational efficiency.
“We remain committed to enhancing the delivery of quality services by clearing the backlog of building plans and implementing a system to better serve the residents of Johannesburg. We, therefore, encourage our customers to be supportive of our plans to improve our processes and systems.”
Access to plans examiners and chief plans examiners by registered professionals and members of the public will, therefore, be limited until October 11, 2021.
“However, walk-in and general inquiries (status of building applications, collection of approved/refused plans, return of corrected applications after refusal, submission of further documentation, and related services) will be dealt with and attended to by admin staff.”
Louw added that almost 1 000 building plans have been processed since September 20 this year.
“This is a considerable feat achieved by the Plans Examiners and Chief Plans Examiners. BDM aims to conclude their assessments and decisions (approval or refusal) on the remaining 1 200 building plans by 08 October 2021.”