Taking an important step in addressing systemic extortion in the construction sector, the Bargaining Council for the Civil Engineering Industry (BCCEI) has signed the Anti-Corruption Pledge and set up a platform for joint action.
Working in support of Public Works and Infrastructure (DPWI) Minister Patricia de Lille’s and Special Investigating Unit Advocate Mothibi’s Infrastructure Built Anti-Corruption Forum, the BCCEI is calling on all affected parties to be part of a collaborative solution.
“It has been encouraging to see government and media expressing growing concern about how the construction mafia is impacting South Africa’s future,” says BCCEI operations manager Lindie Fourie. “After many months of consultation and planning, the BCCEI has an action plan in place that reaches out to all parties involved.”
Construction sites have been disrupted country-wide by criminal gangs often presenting themselves as business forums. As far back as 2020, it was estimated that the resulting losses suffered by the economy had reached over R40 billion. Representing employers and employees in the civil engineering sector, the BCCEI has been proactive, says Fourie.
“In addition to engaging with our own stakeholders, we have put our full support behind the Infrastructure Built Anti-Corruption Forum set up by Minister De Lille and the Special Investigating Unit (SIU),” she says. “We are now looking forward to building practical partnerships to roll back the lawlessness that threatens our sector.”
She highlights that the minister called for a risk analysis focusing on key threats to the execution of projects. This would include identifying high priority projects where these risks were delaying successful completion.
“Our action plan deliberately aligns with the efforts of government departments and agencies, so that the energy of all affected parties can be harnessed,” she says. “The focus has often been on the South African Police Service to do more about stemming this criminal activity; but the long-term solution really needs everyone’s involvement.”
She highlights that the BCCEI action plan includes macro level engagements with government, as well as support mechanisms at the micro level where construction projects are planned or being conducted. The BCCEI council has approved the appointment of a resource to co-ordinate input from project stakeholders including contractors, clients, employees and communities and offer guidance to contractors when sites are disrupted by construction mafia or communities. This will include working closely with the responsible persons within SAPS mandated to address extortion incidents.
“To help our members to execute projects safely and smoothly, we are creating a centralised database with key contacts at regional and national level,” says Fourie. “This includes unions, government departments, police, private security, community leaders and even taxi associations.”
The BCCEI is also reaching out to credible specialists who may be able to assist in resolving site disruptions. At project level, she says the plan would see engagement between clients and contractors on how to systematically deal with criminal and other disruption.
“The aim is to equip both parties with guidelines to prevent and respond to external interference – with the support of SAPS and a national policing strategic plan,” she says. “Importantly, we would like to see every project having contact details of a nominated mobile policing unit.”
Projects should also have local contacts in the trade unions, municipalities, emergency services and Department of Employment and Labour – who will be able to provide support. Fourie emphasised that it was not enough just to react to project interference; proactive steps need to be taken to prevent it. This, she says, needs to take place within a framework of acceptable behaviour that all parties formally accept.
“Awareness needs to be built around the value that civil engineering projects are adding to communities, and community expectations must also be carefully managed,” she says. “Reacting to disruption will need more effective collaboration and intervention – with careful monitoring and recording of information on each incident.”
She is hopeful that momentum is building in the national response to construction mafia disruption and violence. The safety of employees on site remains the key concern. A key aim must be to create a stable environment where law-abiding communities and capable local sub-contractors can benefit fully from construction works, she explains.