Consulting Engineers South Africa’s (CESA) President, Lynne Pretorius, recently presented her presidential message and theme for the year at a function held at Hyatt Regency, in Rosebank. With the theme of ‘Mapping a Sustainable Path for Consulting Engineers amid Growing Economic Challenges’. Pretorius stated that this year that CESA will be focusing on how the organization can support the industry to deliver more with less; form strategic partnerships; remain active and vigilant advocates for the industry; and focus on transformation of the profession.

Pretorius began her presentation with an overview of the ever growing challenges being faced that are having a significant impact on consulting engineers and their role in society. She stated, “Our country is challenged by social instability, ever increasing unemployment, failing economic infrastructure and a depreciating rand. All of these external influences have a profound impact on society at large and with all of these constraining elements, it appears as if consulting engineers have to do more with less.”

The State of Affairs in South Africa
At the recent CESA Infrastructure Indaba in a presentation about the current South African outlook negative sentiments, low GDP and load shedding curtailing economic growth were mentioned. In addition, a backlog of R850bn planned infrastructure spend over the next 3 years and a further R4 trillion required over the next 15 years as well as a lack of good governance, labour strikes and water restrictions were discussed as challenges facing the SA economy. However, it was stated that all is not lost. The Country is making strides in the achievement of the National Development Goals with significant infrastructure investment to date planned in key sectors such as Transport, Power, Water and ICT.

Although the South African government has accomplished much in the last few years, there is not enough money to meet the growing infrastructure challenges. At the CESA’s Indaba, three possible avenues were explored to meet these challenges:
• Private sector should increase its investment in public infrastructure development
• Maintenance of existing infrastructure to ensure that the existing infrastructure remains serviceable for the duration of its design life and beyond
• Addressing inefficiencies in the Supply Chain Management system and more especially as it applies to Consulting Engineers and Built Environment Professionals in general

However, with the recent Moody’s downgrading of South African bonds to levels just above junk status, SA’s economic sustainability is also being questioned. Hearing of service delivery protests in various parts of the country has become common-place and the recent water shortages is a growing concern. Critical municipal infrastructure such as dams, pump stations, pipes and roads are failing due to lack of timeous maintenance and investment, at critical periods, in the elements of economic infrastructure.

Pretorius cautioned, “Within this environment, can SA’s vision, encapsulated in the National Development Plan, actually be delivered on? Or, it is it pie in the sky; a pipe-dream?” She went on to say, “It is however extremely important that Government remains on the path that has been mapped out by the NDP, as steering away from the targets will seriously diminish government’s credibility and further weaken domestic and foreign market sentiment.” Looking briefly at the state of affairs, Pretorius said that there is good news and bad news for consulting engineers. The economic outlook, coupled with limited technical skills, appears to be crippling and stifling the economy but the project pipeline looks good, but can it be delivered? The profession is aging, but there is also significant growth in the number of young engineers.

Pretorius stated, “We have to ask ourselves if things can get worse?” The influence of local government elections in 2016 will have a significant impact on service delivery priorities in some municipalities. In such a constraining economic environment, infrastructure development and the associated job creation opportunities, becomes more critical.

Delivering more with less
Pretorius believes that, “The critical role that the engineering industry, in particular the consulting engineering profession plays, in the functioning of SA’s economy cannot be underestimated.” The current economic outlook and concerns about the public sector’s ability to finance and undertake massive infrastructure investments, requires the profession to assess its skills set and ability to meet the challenging environment.

Forming partnerships
In meeting the development challenges of our country, Pretorius states that CESA has to partner with Government and key industry role-players. The consulting engineering industry represents a particular skills set that is required to further the country’s social and developmental goals. Unlocking opportunities identified, requires us to partner with Government as their trusted advisor. This is particularly relevant in developing an improved procurement environment for the consulting engineering profession.

CESA’s partnerships with the International Federation of consulting Engineers (FIDIC), as well as the regional block of the Southern African Development Communities and the rest of Africa, is of utmost importance to further ensure quality and uniformity in engineering consulting practice and creating a conducive business environment for working within Africa.

Active Advocacy
Although a significant emphasis is placed on partnering with Government, CESA is the voice of consulting engineering and will continue to play an active advocacy role in the larger built environment profession. CESA has to continue to identify corruption, blow the whistle and work with authorities towards eradicating it.

One of the strategic goals of our country is the economic transformation of previous marginalized groups. Pretorius stated, “As consulting engineers we practice in the construction sector that has the potential to significantly contribute towards the transformation and economic empowerment agenda of our country”. CESA, as part of the construction sector, is currently involved in follow-up negotiations to update the scorecard. The transformation of business and our sector in particular, is of strategic importance. Adherence to BBBEE is the way we do business in South Africa and CESA and its members are positioning themselves to meet this opportunity. Pretorius stated, “We need not view transformation, rightfully so or wrongfully so, as a loss of business but how we do business in South Africa”.

In conclusion, Pretorius stated that, “At CESA we are clear about our role as ‘The Voice of Consulting Engineering’ and being a Trusted Advisor to our Clients. We know what we have to do. Going forward we will ensure that we, as consulting engineers, contribute towards South Africa’s social and economic growth.” CESA’s membership, currently representing 537 firms employing just over 24 366 staff, who collectively earn a total fee income of R23.4 billion per annum, is well-positioned to respond to this challenge.