An interview with Hon. Thulas Nxesi

At his offices in parliament, Cape Town, Minister of Public Works, Thulas Nxesi, shared his views and his passion for how to make the NDP work.

“The NDP represents our vision as a government for the next 12 years. It provides focus for everything we do as the Department of Public Works and guides our Five Year Strategic Plan for the period of this Administration as well as Annual Plans.

“Public Works is creating work opportunities through the Expanded Public Works Programme to mitigate the effects of deep structural unemployment and extend the social security net to unemployed and poor people. The department is providing training and work experience, as well as creating social infrastructure and services in poor communities.

“We are committed to creating six million work opportunities by 2019 – and we were on track with one-and-a-quarter million created in the year 2014/15.”

In relation to the Infrastructure Plan which is at the heart of the NDP Strategy, Public Works assists in two ways:

“Firstly, working with our entity the Construction Industry Development Board (CIDB) in developing the construction sector through the National Contractor Development Programme to mentor, train and provide opportunities to emerging black contractors.

The Register of Contractors and the soon-to-be introduced Register of Professional Service Providers gives us a useful guide to our current capacity and capabilities across various classes of construction work, whilst identifying our shortfall areas. This enables coordinated interventions to achieve our Infrastructure Programme.

“Secondly, working with our entity the Council for the Built Environment (CBE)to develop the necessary skills. In a situation where only a quarter of registered professionals are black, CBE has made the following strides:

“It has implemented a maths and science programme to support learners in disadvantaged communities – achieving impressive results particularly in Limpopo (with the top 27 matric learners in Vhembe District achieving 90% and 89% averages in maths and physics respectively).

“CBE has also implemented a Workplace Training Model for the built environment professions – to unblock the skills pipeline whereby many black engineering graduates fail to find placements; and even those who do find positions do not receive the appropriate workplace training to lead to professional registration.

“Further ways of making the NDP a reality include working with the CIDB to implement measures that combat collusion in the construction industry – which wastes public money – as well as ensuring regulations are in place to make payment of contractors within 30 days obligatory. Best practice clauses included in state tenders will encourage skills development and labour intensive methodologies.

“Public Works is mandated to transform the built environment in terms of skills, training, empowerment and better regulation and development of the construction sector. This facilitates the roll out of the Infrastructure Programme – a key pillar of the NDP.”

When asked about how his department measures the success and progress of projects, the Minister replied: “One of the achievements of the last Administration was to institute a regime of planning, monitoring and evaluation and performance management. This was directly associated with the work of our deceased Minister Collins Chabane. What this means is that the implementation of the NDP is measured on a continuous basis through the quarterly assessments of progress on implementation of the various outcomes of the 5 Year Medium Term Strategic Framework (MTSF) – measuring employment, skills and infrastructure.

As individual ministers and departments we set five year and annual targets and indicators in line with the MTSF – which is itself based on the NDP – so we also monitor on a quarterly basis that we are meeting targets; this is cascaded down through the top management of departments to make every manager responsible for their contribution to attaining these targets.”

Minister Nxesi was upbeat about South Africa’s ability to deal comprehensively with inequality and poverty.

“The NDP – and the strategy to drive economic growth and re-industrialisation – are key to employment creation to combat inequality and poverty. We have also said that it is vital to renew our efforts to address the issue of Land Reform and Agrarian transformation.

Still, around 40% of the population live in the rural areas – mostly in poverty with tenuous access to land and economic opportunities. This is a priority of the second phase of transition.

“The Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP) remains important – in the knowledge that structural employment will not be addressed overnight. In fact, many countries experiencing similar unemployment look to South Africa’s model of rolling out public employment opportunities.

“Obstacles to the implementation of the NDP include the bureaucracy in terms of the length of time it takes to obtain planning permission to roll out infrastructure plans. This is being addressed through legislation and regulation – with the Presidential Infrastructure Coordinating Commission (PICC) playing a major role in coordinating projects.

“The shortage of critical skills, particularly in the construction sector, remains a problem, but is being addressed by government across a number of departments – led by Higher Education and Training – which includes Public Works (working with CBE).

“To some extent, South Africa remains at the mercy of international economic trends and developments – which influence the rate of economic growth as well as the cost of obtaining funding. This obviously constrains what we can achieve.

“These problems are compounded by the reticence shown by local companies in investing in the South African economy. This is an area where we need to forge much stronger partnerships and a common understanding of what is required to take us forward.”

How do we get South African citizens as a whole to make the NDP a reality?

“Principally by training people and then getting them into productive employment – and supporting small businesses and co-ops to take up economic opportunities created by the NDP.”

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