Good Business Basics: Minister’s decision to ‘import’ Cuban engineers seems senseless

By  Vijay Naidoo

The decision by the Department of Water Affairs to ‘import’ 24 engineers from Cuba has been roundly condemned by all, and rightly so in my view. The reasons forwarded by Minister Lindiwe Sisulu are flimsy, contrived, and do not stand up to scrutiny.

While the issue of ‘collegiality’ and support for a loyal supporter of the struggle that lead to democracy in this country cannot be dismissed, the question needs to be asked, is a budget of R64 million rand justified in the severely constrained financial conditions the country finds itself in?

Firstly, the argument that they bring a particular skill set that is in scarce supply here has been roundly rejected by the Engineering Council of South Africa (ECSA). Indeed, the swift, economical, and comprehensive turnaround that was achieved by residents in the Koster area after they were handed control of the water and sewer infrastructure bears this out.

Secondly, given that the collapse of water infrastructure plagues virtually the entire country, it is hard to see what impact 24 engineers are going to make. Indeed it would be safe to say that deploying the entire group to us at Ugu will, given the depth of our problems, make little difference on the ground!

Thirdly, the Minister’s contention that “No South African civil engineers were willing to work in rural areas for 3 years,” has also been rejected by the South African Institute of Civil Engineering (SAICE) who stated that no one from the government had even approached them for assistance or information. This statement is also particularly feeble in the light of reports that up to 1000 engineers are currently unemployed in the country, and simple logic dictates that with work in such short supply, few of them would be foolish enough to turn down work, no matter where it was located.

Fourthly, even though the Minister has extolled their abilities, stating that “The Cubans had helped solve similar problems in their country,” the situation on the ground does not bear this out, with the New York Times reporting recently that “Running water is available only sporadically, in some cases for one or two hours a day, every few days.”

Finally, there is the question of the engineers needing to be registered with ECSA to be able to perform any work on national water infrastructure. Has the Minister taken this into account, or is she planning to ‘bulldoze’ her way through these regulations, to meet her objectives? This situation has all the hallmarks of an ill-conceived ‘vanity project’.

Worse, it has effectively shown the ‘middle-finger’ to the hundreds of professionals, in all fields in this country, who look to their government to act with compassion and due regard to their citizens.

Vijay Naidoo writes in his personal capacity as CEO of the Port Shepstone Business Forum.

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