Speech notes by Vicky Knoetze MPL on the budget vote for the Department of Roads & Public Works, 16 May 2017

INNOVATION IS NEEDED FOR REAL PROGRESS

  • 192 Permanent Vacant Posts must be filled to deliver competent, capable and reliable services to the people.
  • Innovation is needed in the transport programme to make ends meet.

Honourable Speaker, Honourable Premier, Honourable members and guests, good afternoon.

The Department of Roads and Public Works still needs to fill 192 permanent vacant posts. This is having a major negative impact on the efficiency and effectiveness of the Department to deliver on its mandate.

Yet, as we speak, graduates in South Africa in general, and in the Eastern Cape specifically are without jobs.  The question must be answered, as to, why graduates are unemployed. University degrees or diplomas no longer hold the promise of jobs for young South Africans as thousands of them battle to find work. About 600 000 university graduates are unemployed.

The economy is rapidly changing and competition is becoming fiercer. In South Africa, we have all the mechanisms in place to boost economic growth; we have a myriad of policies available to ensure that investment in infrastructure development takes place. Yet, we are failing to translate infrastructure development into real economic growth, and even more so, we are unable to translate economic growth into job creation.

The filling of vacant posts is critical in ensuring the efficient and effective operation of the Department and in turn, will ensure better service delivery to the public.

Honourable Speaker, as the nerve centre for Infrastructure in the Eastern Cape, the Department of Roads and Public Works must be at the forefront of new innovation in terms of infrastructure, cost saving and ultimately, service delivery.

This Department is in a unique situation as a nerve centre for infrastructure, to make use of opportunities to firstly, address the R100-billion backlog on roads in the Eastern Cape.  Secondly, create hundreds of new jobs in the EPWP Programme and although it is not the mandate of the DRPW, there exists an opportunity to also address massive problem currently, which is that of plastic waste pollution. I believe that we, here in the Eastern Cape can also be on the forefront of new innovation and set a benchmark for South Africa. I believe it is time for us to venture into new markets, new innovations and launch a pilot-project that no other province has seen before.

Honourable Speaker, The Dutch City of Rotterdam is turning plastic into highways. India is building roads from plastic waste and Europe is following suit. I believe the time has come for South Africa to start implementing this new innovation, and what better place to do so than in our very own Eastern Cape, by the Department that is the nerve-centre of infrastructure.

The City of Rotterdam is seriously considering the technology, which is called PlasticRoad. Construction firm VolkerWessels calls it a ‘greener alternative’ to asphalt that is stronger, easier to maintain, and more resistant to temperature extremes than conventional blacktop.

Asphalt is an environmental scourge: Its production releases 96 million tonnes of Co2 into the atmosphere annually.

In India, plastic refuse (including bags) has already been used in place of bitumen in 3,000 miles of roadway.

PlasticRoad is practical. It doesn’t rely on technical breakthroughs, making it a suitable replacement for asphalt. Since the highway is hollow, cables and pipes can easily pass through. It can also be prefabricated and transported as and where needed, reducing construction and traffic disruptions. Another benefit not to be overlooked: PlasticRoad makes use of our waste.

Plastic Roads has weathered major floods, several monsoons, recurring heat waves and a steady stream of cars and trucks without showing the usual signs of wear and tear. It does not develop the mosaic of cracks, potholes or craters that typically make their appearance after it rains. Holding the road together is an unremarkable material: a cheap, polymer glue made from shredded waste plastic.

The environmentally conscious approach to road construction was developed in India around 15 years ago, in response to the growing problem of plastic litter. As time wore on, polymer roads proved to be surprisingly durable, winning support among scientists and policymakers in India as well as neighbouring countries like Bhutan. Today, there are more than 21,000 miles of plastic road in India, most are rural roads, but a small number have also been built in cities such as Chennai and Mumbai.

Every kilometre of this kind of road uses the equivalent of 1m plastic bags, saving around one tonne of asphalt and costing roughly 8% less than a conventional road and it is expected to reduce construction costs by 50%.

Last November, the Indian government announced that plastic roads would be the default method of construction for most city streets, part of a multibillion-dollar overhaul of the country’s roads and highways. Urban areas with more than 500,000 people are now required to construct roads using waste plastic.

In the short run, the bigger challenge for plastic roads is execution. They require a hefty dose of government intervention to succeed.

Honourable speaker, the Department must create and maintain a roads network. We need to expand our infrastructure, connect people to opportunities and create access to schools and hospitals in an ever-growing society.

In an article in Business Tech, it was stated that South Africa needs over 49,000 scalable Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs), growing at a rate of 20% per annum, to create 11 million jobs by 2030 to meet the National Development Plan (NDP) target.

The country would need as many as 8.2 million small and micro-enterprises to create the same number of jobs.  In general, a micro-enterprise is considered a small business employing ten people or less.

According to Stats SA’s employment data for 2014, labour market conditions in South Africa improved following the economic crisis, with the total number of employed persons increasing between 2008 and 2014 – from 14.6 million to 15.1 million.

However, the number of unemployed persons also increased – from 4.3 million to 5.1 million – resulting in an increase in the unemployment rate from 22.5% in 2008 to 25.1% in 2014.

Government’s New Growth Path is targeting 5 million new jobs by 2020, while it also aims to reduce the unemployment rate from 27% in 2011 to 6% by 2030 by creating 11 million new jobs.

The South African Labour market report, published by Solidarity Research Institute, puts broad unemployment at 35.8% in SA, while the official unemployment rate is at around 25%.

Standard Bank estimates that about half of South Africa’s GDP is produced by small business and that about 70% of private employment is provided through firms with fewer than 50 employees.

The CEO of FNB Business, said: “South Africa has reserved large sums of funds to boost business development; therefore, we need to take a realistic approach to ensure that such an investment yields the desired results.

“It is important to note that calling for more investment in scalable SMEs does not mean that micro-enterprises should be neglected, those businesses will still need to be developed, over a longer lead time.”

The Department must create jobs through the Expanded Public Works Programme. A job gives people a sense of purpose, it lifts them out of poverty and grows the economy. This Department is in this way, directly linked to the people, their well-being and the economy of the Province and South Africa.

Honourable Speaker, I believe that the time has come to think outside of the box, attempt more innovative solutions to modern day problems and I believe that the Eastern Cape must be on the forefront of this innovation.

If we call for new, innovative ideas to solve issues such as the R100-billion backlog on roads, the fast-deteriorating roads network, solutions to rural road networks, the war on waste and job creation, that call will be answered. I can see a province where people are coming from all over the world to see how we achieved these things; I can see a province where we are making headlines for making unbelievable technological advances and solving modern day issues with forward-thinking, innovative South African people leading us.

Therefore, Honourable Speaker, let’s be innovative, let’s be game-changers, let’s be on the forefront of progress. Let us not ask why, let us ask, why not?

The DA supports the report by the department.

Thank you.