Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation Minister, Lindiwe Sisulu has been given less than 24-hours to suspend her department’s Cuban engineer programme, or she may have to defend its rollout in court.
The programme has courted controversy with trade union Solidarity threatening to go to court on Friday to obtain an interdict, forcing its suspension.
Solidarity calls for suspension of the Cuban engineering programme
Sisulu has brought in 24 Cuban engineers to help repair the country’s ailing water infrastructure at a cost of R65-million.
There’s also a backlash from South Africa’s Engineering Sector.
The Vaal sewage spillage crisis exposed years of poor maintenance of water infrastructure in the country. In an attempt to address the ailing infrastructure, Sisulu is hiring 24 Cuban engineers to assist with repair work.
She insists the engineers are not in South Africa for employment, but to transfer skills and mentor local officials.
Sthembile Tshikosi, an engineering professional with over two decades of experience, feels aggrieved that the government is importing skills, that are already available in the country.
“There is no shortage of engineers in this country, therefore there’s no need to go look outside until you have exhausted every Engineering graduate out there then you can say you can bring people from outside because we struggling. So I would say reach out to the Engineering Council of South Africa, find out from the universities who are the graduates. Are they working? Do something on the ground before you get on the plane and go look for people from outside?”
South African Institution of Civil Engineering CEO Vishaal Lutchman says there’s a lot of anger in the sector over this matter.
“From an institutions point of view, we do respect bilateral trade agreements etc. And we believe that Geo-political relationships matter a lot especially in the time when we have economic woes like what we are having,” says Lutchman.
“However the rationale and the explanation of why this is happening, perhaps it is more important. It comes across as if government lacks care for its professionals that are in the country. Its regard for professionals has not been good enough. There was the comment about the local engineers not being skilled and in need of training and the like,” adds Lutchman.
The Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation ministry denies the decisions are aimed at undermining the local engineering sector. It says local engineers were invited to assist, but only a handful responded.
The ministry says the programme’s R64-million budget is justified as it covers the engineers’ travel, accommodation and communication expenses, as well as a stipend.
The department’s spokesperson, McIntosh Polela, says minister Sisulu previously invited engineers to assist.
“The minister some months ago invited South African engineers to say we need help. So it is not to say by bringing the Cuban Engineers we saying South African engineers are not welcomed. If anyone feels that they have people who are skilled they need that help. My goodness, we need the skills. We have a lot of places like municipalities that need skilled engineers. But us bringing Cuban engineers does not mean we are undermining any skill that is here in South Africa,” says Polela.
Department of Water & Sanitation defends its decision to procure the services of 24 Cuban engineers
However trade union Solidarity insist that the minister must suspend the programme or risk being forced to do so through a court interdict.
“The decision to import Cuban engineer is not only foolish and immoral, but it seems it also illegal. It appears at face value that these engineers do not meet the requirements for registration and licensing of the South African Engineering council. In its legal letter to the minister Solidarity asks that this whole Cuban programme must be suspended till we get legal certainty,” says Dirk Herman. from Solidarity.
The industry regulatory body, the Engineering Council South Africa (ECSA), says Cuba is not a member of the International Engineering Alliance – a global organisation that governs the recognition of engineering qualifications and professional competency.
ECSA says the Engineering Profession Act does not make registration mandatory in South Africa.
“They will have to register with us as competent people so that they can be held accountable. Alternatively, they must work under the supervision of someone who is registered with ECSA who will take that accountability. Those are the two channels they can follow,” says ECSA CEO Sipho Madonsela.
“We do not have yet a compulsory registration regime in South Africa. The issue of making compulsory is something we are working on and i hope by the end of this year that process will be done and dusted. Then we can exclude certain people from performing certain engineering options if they are not registered,” elaborates Madonsela.