Infrastructure at a blistering pace

Infrastructure at a blistering pace

By Abdul Waheed Patel
Managing Director
ETHICORE Consulting and Advisory Solutions

This morning, the Economic Development Department led by the Minister for Economic Development, Mr. Ebrahim Patel and a team of high-ranking officials briefed Parliament’s National Assembly Portfolio Committee on Economic Development, on the Economic Development Department’s role in the Presidential Infrastructure Coordinating Commission (PICC). The centrality of the briefing’s subject matter was underscored by a private gathering of the ANC’s parliamentary study group on economic development in the National Assembly with the Minister, prior to the commencement of the briefing.

The briefing did not cover the detailed aspects of the actual national Infrastructure Plan, but rather the central role of the Economic Development Department in coordinating and supporting salient aspects of the PICC’s work and mandate. The briefing was timely, as according to Minister Patel the PICC’s work is moving forward at a “blistering pace”. Yet not much is known about the inner workings of the PICC and its outcomes, since the PICC was thrust into the spotlight during President Jacob Zuma’s State of the Nation Address to Parliament on 9 February 2012 following its establishment in September 2011 as a direct outcome of the July 2011 Cabinet Lekgotla review.

While various government department’s fulfill strategic roles in the management structures of the PICC, the Economic Development Department’s role is pivotal in ensuring that the day-to-day operational business of the PICC are attended to so that the PICC’s central mandate of developing and rolling-out a 20-year infrastructure project pipeline is realized through coordinated short-term actions.

The Economic Development Department achieves this through its chairing of the PICC Secretariat. As a result, the department provides what the Minister refers to as the “macro-coordination” work of the PICC through assisting with:

  • Political coordination, communication and liaison;
  • Administrative coordination and support; and
  • Technical coordination, liaison and support.

As such, the Economic Development Department’s Annual Performance Plan, Strategic Plan and internal structures have been adjusted to respond to its responsibility in supporting the Minister in coordinating and supporting the work of the PICC. As such, within the Department, staff from across the Department have been drawn into the relevant aspects of the PICC’s work, which the department is responsible for. These include staff and resources within the directorates in the Department responsible for Policy, Planning, Spatial Coordination and Social Dialogue.

A new directorate under the Department’s Economic Planning and Coordination Branch has been established comprised of a chief director, two director and 2 deputy directors. In relation to the PICC, this directorate will liaise with line government departments on various infrastructure projects to be implemented, its project management and monitoring. This is addition to assisting the Minister with secretariat services in his chairperson-ship of the PICC Secretariat.

To date the Department has assisted in the completion and attainment of a number of PICC goals, including:

  • A spatial mapping exercise to determine key economic needs, gaps and opportunities in relation to existing infrastructure, future infrastructure requirements and unlocking new economic opportunities.
  • The compilation of an ‘infrastructure book’ containing examples of actual and planned infrastructure across all levels of the state.
  • The identification and conceptualization of 17 Strategic Infrastructure Projects (SIPs), integrating more than 150 individual infrastructure plans into an integrated package of infrastructure plans. These SIPs are aimed at fast-tracking development and growth. 5 SIPs are geographic specific interventions, 3 are spatially driven, 3 are energy related, 3 are social infrastructure projects, 2 in the knowledge economy and 1 regional integration project.
  • Auditing the state of readiness of each identified project, including scoping its impacts, implementation challenges, timelines, funding requirements and funding strategy.
  • Commencing a public sector skills audit covering engineering and other technical skills for each SIP and assessing the capacity of local universities to support the ongoing requirements of projects and long-term infrastructure needs.
  • Positioning the PICC project book with foreign investors and key social partners in business, labour and civil society.

It is evident that the Economic Development Department is playing an instrumental role together with its peers in government and the public sector to ensure that the PICC transforms the South African landscape into a large construction site, through strategic infrastructure planning, developments and investments that deliver sustainable economic and social enhancements. This bodes well for attracting significant levels of participation and excitement in government’s mooted infrastructure investor conference, planned for later this year.

The challenges confronting the PICC will be to ensure that:

  • The high levels of sound intergovernmental cooperation and collaboration between the various spheres of government and state agencies that has characterised its establishment to date, is sustained and built upon. This includes ensuring that the plans agreed on today are not abandoned for political expediency due to political and leadership changes, thereby perpetuating the short-termism that the PICC seeks to shift South African infrastructure planning away from.
  • The mooted Infrastructure Bill provides a sound regulatory and legal framework to ensure that strategic infrastructure decisions in the national interest can overcome the jurisdictional challenges associated with concurrent functions provided to the three spheres of government within the Constitution, within the context of a unitary state.
  • A conducive environment, with a clear structure and the least bureaucracy and rep-tape is fostered so that key social actors, including domestic and international infrastructure partners, developers, investors and financiers can engage the state through a ‘single window facility’ in having their interests recorded and appropriately directed to the relevant infrastructure custodian and champion for follow-up and response handling.

Recently ETHICORE has completed a series of customised local and international client briefings, advisories and reports on the PICC, and will continue to disseminate information on its workings more generally for broader public consumption.