As we enter 2010 we can only hope that considerable private initiative work done in the last three years receives a modicum of understanding and action by the powers that be. Unless local government realise that without the necessary capacity to manage the infrastructure, the current rate of degradation will continue. There is no need for more conferences, overseas trips and lengthy meetings all which seem to give the participants the satisfaction that they are doing something of value. The solution is clear to anyone who actually understands.
The technical heads of the metros and most municipalities now all agree and support the need to train and retain the necessary level of ENGINEERING skills and not only at the level of artisans, albeit they are critically short. The constraint lies at the political and funding level, where other priorities (if those can be identified in the noise of trying to determine what they are), are given as the reasons for no action. The actual situation is that those in charge do not understand the role of the Engineer in an asset-based infrastructure. When one assess the qualification of these officials, then that almost becomes understandable. The relevant SETAs, for example, do not train or have plans to train beyond NQF level 4 or 5.
Carte Blanche replayed the catastrophic situation of the state of SA water supplies again last Sunday, no doubt because it created the greatest shock and comment of all their programmes in 2009. Has anything changed? We watched the then Minister, with arrogant ignorance, defying the urgent messages of the experts who actually know something about the subject. She has undoubtedly either moved on to be an expert in some other field, or retired on a fat ministerial pension paid for by the taxpayer. What is the bet that she buys bottled water?
Electrical distribution is suffering the same decline. Do you know how many switchyard explosions go unreported and have no action taken?
It is time government placed some confidence in the collective skills, experience and wisdom of the engineering institutions and drew them into their decision making processes. The current rate of neglect of the assets of the infrastructure is at an advanced level, and like the impasse that Eskom finds itself in, takes years of continual poor management to reach the break point, and may never be reversed unless extraordinary money, skill and will can be mobilised. All I can say is unless engineering capacitation is prioritised, then when the lights really go out, the water stops flowing and the hospitals have no services, we cannot say we did not know.