South Africa’s civil engineers have joined the battle against the “construction mafia” and have called for partnerships to help roll back crime in South Africa’s construction industry.Industry organisation, the Bargaining Council for the Civil Engineering Industry (BCCEI) has put together an action plan that reaches out to all parties involved to address systemic extortion in the construction sector. Working in collaboration with the Minister of Public Works and Infrastructure, Patricia de Lille, and the Special Investigating Unit’s Infrastructure Built Anti-Corruption Forum, the BCCEI calls on all affected parties to be part of a collaborative solution. According to the operations manager at BCCEI, Lindie Fourie, the action plan includes macro-level engagements with the government, as well as support mechanisms at the micro-level, where construction projects are planned or being conducted. Fourie said construction sites had been disrupted countrywide by criminal gangs often presenting themselves as “business forums”. “The focus has often been on the police to do more about stemming this criminal activity, but the long-term solution really needs everyone’s involvement.” She adds that the BCCEI, which represents employers and employees in the civil engineering sector, had an action plan which includes appointing someone to coordinate input from project stakeholders, contractors, clients, employees, and communities. The plan The BCCEI council has approved the allocation of resources to coordinate input from project stakeholders including contractors, clients, employees and communities and offer guidance to contractors when sites are disrupted by construction mafia or communities. This will include working closely with the responsible persons within the South African Police Service mandated to address extortion incidents, she says. “To help our members to execute projects safely and smoothly, we are creating a centralised database with key contacts at regional and national level. This includes unions, government departments, police, private security and community leaders, as well as taxi associations. “In addition to engaging with our own stakeholders, we have put our full support behind the Infrastructure Built Anti-Corruption Forum set up by Minister De Lille and the Special Investigating Unit. We are now looking forward to building practical partnerships to roll back the lawlessness that threatens our sector,” she says.
De Lille has further called for a risk analysis focusing on key threats to the execution of projects, which would include identifying high-priority projects where these risks were delaying successful completion.“Our action plan deliberately aligns with the efforts of government departments and agencies, so that the energy of all affected parties can be harnessed. The focus has often been on the South African Police Service to do more about stemming this criminal activity, but the long-term solution needs everyone’s involvement,” notes Fourie. Additionally, the BCCEI is also reaching out to credible specialists who may be able to assist in resolving site disruptions. At the project level, the BCCEI plan would see engagement between clients and contractors on how to systematically deal with criminal and other disruption, she says. “The aim is to equip clients and contractors with guidelines to prevent and respond to external interference, with the support of the South African Police Service and a national policing strategic plan. Importantly, we would like to see every project having contact details of a nominated mobile policing unit,” she highlights. Further, projects should also have local contacts in the trade unions, municipalities, emergency services and Department of Employment and Labour that will be able to provide support, she adds. However, Fourie emphasises that it was not enough just to react to project interference, proactive steps need to be taken to prevent it. This needs to take place within a framework of acceptable behaviour that all parties formally accept. The BCCEI has also signed the Anti-Corruption Pledge and set up a platform for joint action. “Awareness needs to be built around the value that civil engineering projects are adding to communities, and community expectations must also be carefully managed. Reacting to disruption will need more effective collaboration and intervention – with careful monitoring and recording of information on each incident,” she says. Fourie is hopeful that momentum is building in the national response to construction mafia disruption and violence. “The safety of employees on site remains the key concern. A key aim must be to create a stable environment where law-abiding communities and capable local sub-contractors can benefit fully from construction works,” she explains.