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Apprenticeship back eventually

14 February 2006 Angelo Coppola

Infrastructure investment is a priority and retired professionals are eager and willing to get involved, but government should stop trying to push the private sector into areas that they dont want to be involved in.

Or so says Jurie Swart, portfolio manager at Old Mutual Asset Management, who says that one of the reasons that there is minimal local government infrastructure investment, is because of a lack of qualified civil engineering personnel.

A plan has been implemented however to bring those professionals that took retirement packages over the last number of years, back in to act as mentors and assist to re-establishing the apprenticeship schemes that were done away with several years ago.

Looking forward, government must make every effort to partner with the private sector to provide efficient execution. There are several key examples of how this can work, such as the three toll roads, and the three private prisons.

He maintains that there are certain sections of rail that could be privatized, despite the strategic role that government wishes to maintain.

Power is another area that could be developed. In essence any infrastructure can be financed, provided that there is enough off-take at the end of the project.

The problem is that government is attempting to push the private sector into areas that it doesnt want to get involved in.

Swart says that the historical statistics speak for themselves. Government consumption has been fairly flat, while government gross fixed capital formation has declined. Added to this GDP per capita has climbed, while infrastructure investment per capita has also been fairly flat.

So where has government been spending since 2000?

The little that has been spent has gone into public transport, while communication infrastructure has been the big loser, followed closely by power and water supply. There is capacity in the private sector.

The problem he maintains is that there is a frightening skills shortage in the civil engineering skill-set in local government and hence the reason for a lack of spending when it comes to civil engineering projects.

In one case only 4% of the construction budget was spent in one municipality. Of 231 local municipalities surveyed, there were 79 that had no civil engineers, technologists or technicians.

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