Improving funding and acceptance of African infrastructure development discussed at UJ-hosted conference

The African Renaissance will remain a pipedream unless African countries are prepared and willing to trade with one another and to rely on one another’s companies and resources for infrastructure development, said the Minister of Home Affairs, Mr Malusi Gigaba, in his opening address at a conference hosted by the University of Johannesburg (UJ) on Monday 11 July 2016.

The Minister was speaking at the 5th International Conference on Infrastructure Development in Africa, hosted by UJ in collaboration with the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST), Kumasi, Ghana; and Bells University of Technology, Ogun, Nigeria. The conference explored sustainable practices in development and procurement for large infrastructure projects on 11 and 12 July.

“Four critical issues need to be looked at to unlock infrastructure development in Africa,” said Minister Gigaba.

“Firstly, countries need long-term vision and planning to provide investors with project pipelines so that they can plan their investments. Secondly, coordination both within and between countries is needed to maximise impact and resolve red tape and other impediments. In addition, institutional infrastructure needs to be set up to drive such development programmes and ensure coordination and alignment. Finally, funding is needed to explore various financing models, including pension funds and public-public partnerships, to unlock the balance sheets of investors and get infrastructure projects off the ground in Africa.”

Echoing the Minister’s sentiments, Prof Didibhuku Thwala said Africa’s impressive economic performance over the past decade has rekindled hopes for the continent’s future as an important player in the global economic landscape.

Prof Thwala is from the UJ Department of Construction Management and Quantity Surveying; Chairperson of the Johannesburg Development Agency; and member of the Gautrain Board.

“Infrastructure development has been seen by many countries around the world and in Africa as a catalyst to economic growth and development. However infrastructure projects are notorious for experiencing cost and schedule overruns. These overruns are a major concern for Governments worldwide as they can destabilize their political position and cause significant unrest to taxpayers as well as negatively impact an economy,” said Prof Thwala.

“We need to maintain and care for the infrastructure that has been built. We must not destroy infrastructure – it forms the basis for development and economic growth.”

Also speaking at the conference Prof PMD Rwelamila (UNISA Graduate School of Business Leadership) pointed out that African infrastructure is the most deficient and costly in the world. “Inadequate infrastructure is the single biggest threat to our long-term growth on this continent,” he said.

Prof PMD Rwelamila is also a non-executive Director and board chairman of a construction project management company based in Cape Town; and co-owner and director of an engineering consultancy in Botswana.

“To deal with the infrastructure challenges in Sub-Saharan Africa will need $93million (USD) per year over the next decade. We have to tap the resources from the private sector in Public-Private-Partnerships. We have no alternative. But we have to guarantee private investors long-term policy stability, revenue certainty and ethical procurement,” said Prof Rwelamila.

“The biggest issue of all: we need to ask the Public what they want. The Public should be treated as the client in PPP’s, not just told what will happen when the project starts. The alternative is the E-toll scenario, where the public says it did not want the project.”

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