READER LETTER | Joy over Sanral announcement tinged with doubts

In this file photo Sanral is working on a national project to upgrade the Gonubie interchange on the N2, East London.
In this file photo Sanral is working on a national project to upgrade the Gonubie interchange on the N2, East London.

The announcement of the Sanral  infrastructure investment is both cause for optimism and pessimism. There is optimism because it shows confidence that our economically depressed areas can prosper. On the other hand there is room for pessimism because we cannot ignore history.

Good projects have been announced with much fanfare before. Lots of them have failed to take off. Some have taken too long, others took off but collapsed during implementation. The Eastern Cape’s project implementation and maintenance are dismal.  

What is lacking in the present announcement is how Sanral and the government plan to counter the many problems that have led to costly failures before. The public wants to know when the projects will start and be completed. Are these jobs around the corner or years away? What are the plans for project maintenance? Are we going to avoid the Mzimvubu experience which took decades to implement?

We know that crime is going to increase exponentially and our current police might not be up to the task. What are the plans for effective policing as the projects are implemented. Criminality disguised as service delivery protests may flare up, which means our anticipated SMMEs may not take off.

Then there is labour, supplies and work stoppages that drive up the cost. In no time the R1.6bn  quote skyrockets to R30bn. How are consumers to be protected from labour disruptions and cost escalations that end up bankrupting infrastructure projects?

We all know the Eskom power plants were supposed to cost consumers less than R10bn. Now we hear R100bn. No-one really knows or explain how we get to have such inflated figures. A dysfunctional Eskom is good for others as it keeps the gravy train going.

But that brings us to an issue we dare not even raise without increasing the political temperature. Public infrastructure projects are not profitmaking entities. They have a specific public budget. In the Chinese model, labour and supplies are negotiated as long-term contracts within the available public budget. It’s a binding contract that precludes changing the terms of the contract. This in turn protects consumers from escalating prices which lead to layoffs, unemployment, and SMME failures.

Wongaletu Vanda, via e-mail


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