MUNICIPALITIES IN CRITICAL SKILLS SHORTAGE CRISIS: WEEKEND POST

“Generally, engineers are not keen to work for municipalities because of working conditions” — Dacre Haddon

A DAMNING new report has revealed that a fifth of municipalities in the Eastern Cape do not have city engineers or technical directors and that this has resulted in large-scale infrastructure maintenance backlogs, crippling many local communities.

In some municipalities, the lack of infrastructure maintenance not only poses health risks to local communities – especially where sewerage systems are left to deteriorate – but also threatens their livelihood when roads, electrical infrastructure and water systems are not upgraded.

DA shadow MEC for local government Dacre Haddon said, in reply to a parliamentary question, he was informed municipalities without engineering expertise were Nelson Mandela Metro, Cacadu District Municipality, Sundays River Valley, Blue Crane Route, Kouga, Ikwezi, Tsolwana, King Sabata Dalindyebo and Ntabankulu.

“With severe problems with water supply and dysfunctional sanitation services in municipalities the lack of adequate engineers is having a detrimental effect on the quality and efficiency of these and other related services. This is a critical problem that needs immediate attention,” Haddon said.

A snap survey by Weekend Post about the lack of engineers revealed that in some municipalities infrastructure maintenance and development had come to a “near standstill”.

In the Nxuba Municipality electrical infrastructure maintenance had become “virtually non-existent”.

Local councillor Ernie Lombard said electricity poles were rusted at their bases.

“Some are supported by means of droppers hammered in next to them. Others are supported by means of temporary struts while others are only held upright because they are in line with others,” Lombard said.

“Transformers have not been serviced for ages and could explode at any time. Electrical open wire routes are overgrown, which means that every time the wind blows the wires touch, arc and power failures occur. This also causes weak spots in the wires.”

While Lombard had counted 128 street lights that were not working, streets were also full of potholes and “sewage regularly overflows onto the town’s golf course and the adjoining road”.

Haddon said electricity poles posed a major danger for communities and could lead to legal claims against the municipality if someone were to be injured.

He added that power outages had a negative effect on the community, with many businesses losing out on productivity and profit.

Lombard confirmed the municipality had no qualified engineers and only had two qualified electricians and one qualified road builder – who could not do his job because of the lack of equipment to carry out road maintenance.

“One of the fire vehicles is even being used by the electricians because of lack of maintenance on other vehicles.

In the Makana region the picture is just as bleak.

Councillor Leslie Reynolds told Weekend Post two of the area’s sewerage reticulation works were not functioning and sewage was leaking into nearby streams.

“The water reticulation system is in very bad shape in Grahamstown. This is as a result of old pipes not being able to withstand the pressure required to reticulate water.

“This means the pumping stations frequently fail, leaving residents without water,” Reynolds said.

Minimal maintenance and upgrades on electricity infrastructure were also done annually. “Rhodes University has and is continuing to install large generators given the unreliable supply.”

He said the main cause of all these issues was that officials were not capable of drawing up proper maintenance schedules and were tardy in finalising supply chain requirements for new work.

“There are two posts for qualified engineers – one in the electrical department and one as the overall in charge of the technical services directorate. This post normally goes to a civil engineer. For a number of years now these posts have been filled by people who are not registered engineers.

“At present Makana has no full-time engineers which is a major problem.”

Councillor Lappies Labuschagne of the Great Kei Municipality said the municipality’s inability to execute projects budgeted for was alarming.

“Although the personnel expenditure budget represents the largest part of the total budget they just do not have the staff with the required skills and experience to manage and drive these projects. The consequences are that they do not spend the money and the communities are deprived of possible jobs, houses and the required services,” Labuschagne said.

Haddon said the reason there was such a lack of engineers was that municipalities were “unattractive work places”.

“Generally, engineers are not keen to work for municipalities because of working conditions and remuneration packages which are more attractive in the private sector.”

Local government MEC Mlibo Qoboshiyane said his department was looking into the matter and would be rolling out its municipal infrastructure support agency this month.