The South African Constitution defines an active role for the state in improving the quality of life of all citizens and lays down the framework for an “open society” in which government is based on the will of the people.
Having worked at various levels of government for more than a decade, I have had the privilege of seeing, first hand, how it is possible to forge the capabilities of the state to function in a highly efficient and effective way. Over the past two years at Gauteng’s Department of Infrastructure Development, I have deliberately and consciously immersed myself in building the technical aspects of the department with the officials of the department. We have sought to transform the department into an effective and efficient state organ — in line with what is envisioned by the National Development Plan to be the basis of a capable developmental state.
This quest was informed by the fact that, as government, we have spent close on R1-trillion on infrastructure since 2010, and yet various influential surveys both here and abroad have highlighted the global challenge of the infrastructure sector being mired in inefficiencies, poor performance, low productivity, high costs and corruption.
Consequently, much of the work we have done in the department has been less about sod turning and ribbon cutting, and more about attending to the profound questions of building sustainable service delivery processes. As a team we have spent much energy on the often unglamorous and time-consuming work of establishing and strengthening the technical capabilities of the department.
This is critical if we, as government, are to become more effective and efficient at delivering on our mandates and rooting out corruption and waste. The latter is endemic to the infrastructure sector as a whole, and it is, therefore, crucial that we make it a focus, especially considering the massive infrastructure stimulus that is to help resuscitate our economy.
At the department, where we are responsible for delivering on huge infrastructure projects, it was imperative to build our capability on various fronts to become more efficient.
First, we established an electronic monitoring facility, Lutsinga Infrastructure House, to provide us with a single view of all our operations. We designed a Project Readiness Matrix — a non-visual delivery process lab for our operations that provides the tools and techniques to test whether projects are ready to move from one construction stage to the next.
The Project Readiness Matrix has been instrumental in helping us to neutralise the major challenges of escalating costs, long delays and poor quality that our sector is notorious for. We have also harnessed smart technology on various levels to improve our efficiencies. Our new drone programme is the latest addition to our raft of new capabilities — five unmanned aerial vehicles now monitor our construction projects across Gauteng City Region’s five development corridors.
We are now able to draw data and information from the three critical sources of infrastructure intelligence — the human intelligence from our project managers, the business intelligence housed in our nerve centre, and the artificial intelligence embedded in the drone programme. These three sources complement and support one another seamlessly without one posing a threat to the other. The continued training of our officials is another level of this suite of technical capabilities that we must now embed as part of the culture of the department through monitoring, evaluation and oversight.
Our precise on-the-ground monitoring capabilities have made us far more efficient at delivering our social infrastructure projects. One of the most significant benefits to date has been the ability for the department to address wastage, corruption and scope creep.
Our drone programme, for instance, allows us to gather data on all the different elements of infrastructure delivery — from the use of materials, to the deviations from original plans to the timelines and and quality of work done by our contractors.
This has enabled us to minimise cost overruns — a primary reason for corruption, waste and delays in the delivery of high-quality projects such as schools, clinic, libraries, community centres and hospitals.
The lessons we have learnt at the department highlight the importance of building the technical capacity of our state organs to ensure visible results and meeting the aspirations of the people. It is particularly important in the infrastructure sector.
As the new stimulus package kicks in, we need to continuously ask ourselves what we are doing to improve the efficiency of the state to ensure that the massive investments in infrastructure do not just trickle down the wastage drain. It is imperative that we talk about the nuts and bolts of a capable developmental state. DM
Jacob Mamabolo is MEC, Gauteng Department of Infrastructure Development.