By Thandisizwe Mgudlwa
The Government of South Africa needs to get its act right in order to provide citizens with decent homes.
This has been articulated in a document produced by the Cape Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
The Chamber states that before taking any decision to start a state-owned construction company to build houses for the poor there should be a thorough investigation of why the present system of using contractors has left the country with a R50 billion account to repair shoddy buildings.
Established in 1804, the Chamber is the oldest member-based business organisation in Africa.
And also, the Cape Chamber is mandated to serve, enable and lead business. This is achieved through a plethora of services, networking opportunities as well as robust advocacy on behalf of business.
A state construction company has been suggested by the Human Settlements Minister, Tokyo Sexwale, as a possible answer to the problem.
Michael Bagraim, President of the Chamber, says the Government was right to be concerned and investigating alternative approaches made sense.
At the same time he warned that there was a danger of repeating mistakes unless a thorough investigation was made.
While Peter Haylett, Chairman of the Chamber’s Industrial Focus Portfolio Committee, said: “The real causes of the shoddy houses could lie in the specifications, the way tenders were awarded, the supervision or the materials used. An investigation might reveal a “tendrepreneur problem” and not a construction one.
“Social housing is a municipal responsibility and municipal service delivery has become a major problem, but there is no guarantee that a completely new government-run construction company will get it right. In fact, a long and expensive learning curve is likely.”
Haylett said the problem might be as simple as a failure to inspect work and make sure that inexperienced construction firms were adhering to the terms of their contracts.
“The other big problem is costs. Public sector wages and benefits are much higher than in the private sector so the costs will go up.”
Haylett added that a better approach might be to use Sector Education Training Authority (SETA) funds for training in basic building skills and really good inspection teams to advise and help municipalities develop the skills to award and manage contracts.