The employment of 34 Cuban engineers by the Department of Water Affairs and Sanitation has caused an uproar in local engineering circles and now the Democratic Alliance (DA) is posing parliamentary questions over the matter.
The estimated cost of employing the Cuban engineers, who arrived in SA on February 17, is about R50m a year. SA has hundreds of unemployed engineers, according to the DA.
Earlier this month Water Affairs and Sanitation Minister Nomvula Mokonyane welcomed the Cubans to SA to work on a number of projects to refurbish crumbling water infrastructure.
However, the South African Institute of Civil Engineers has slammed the recruitment of the Cubans, saying local engineers would have applied for the jobs if they had been offered the same incentives as the Cubans in rural communities, national and provincial infrastructure departments and local authorities.
“The money spent on establishing and accommodating these engineers in SA could possibly be better spent relooking at current salaries and working environments in these areas to the benefit of civil engineering professionals, a number of whom are unemployed, thereby creating sustainable jobs within SA,” the institute said.
Consulting Engineers SA (Cesa) president Abe Thela said his association was appalled by the department’s action.
The Cubans’ arrival follows a bilateral agreement that SA and Cuba concluded last year for co-operation in water resources management and supply.
Mr Thela warned that the recruitment was worrying since Cuban engineering skills were not recognised by the Engineering Council of SA, because Cuba was not a party to the Washington Accord, which governs international engineering qualifications.
“Our member firms are currently only being 60% utilised and have 40% spare capacity, while they are waiting for the government to bring projects on stream,” Mr Thela said.
DA MP Leon Basson said he had asked the chairman of the portfolio committee on water and sanitation, Mlungisi Johnson, to summon Ms Mokonyane to the next committee meeting to explain why she had bypassed unemployed South African engineers.
Mr Basson said the same amount of money could have been spent to employ more than 60 local engineers. There were an estimated 500 unemployed engineers in SA, making it nonsensical for Ms Mokonyane to look abroad to fill contractual positions in her department.
He said the DA supported the South African Institution of Civil Engineering (SAICE) view that Ms Mokonyane’s decision acted as a disincentive to local graduates.
“It is also counter to healthy levels of cooperation between the government and the private sector. By tapping into the local pool of unemployed engineers, unnecessary problems such as language barriers and a lack of familiarity with South African design codes and practice can be avoided,” Mr Basson said.
The DA will also request the portfolio committee to invite the SAICE and the Engineering Council of SA to deliver a presentation to the committee on how they could help solve SA’s water and sanitation crises.
Water and Sanitation Minister Nomvula Mokonyane has welcomed 34 Cuban water experts, who are in the country to share their skills to improve the quality of water.
The arrival of the experts follows a bilateral agreement between South Africa and Cuba in 2014 on cooperation in the fields of water resources management and water supply.
In October 2014, Water and Sanitation Deputy Minister Pam Tshwete went to Cuba on behalf of Minister Mokonyane to ratify the agreement and to appoint the water experts.
The specialists have been contracted to work in South Africa for two years, with the possibility of extending their stay by another year.
The recruited Cuban specialists include civil, electrical, hydraulic and mechanical engineers, and irrigation and drainage specialists.
The recruitment of the engineers also involved the participation of a South African organisation of engineers, which helped the department to identify the specialists.
“The specialists will be deployed at the department’s head office in Pretoria as well as in rural parts of South Africa where there is a shortage of skill. The experts are recruited at a middle management level (deputy director) in terms of the remuneration levels of government, costing the government less than R500 000 per person per annum.”
Speaking at the welcoming ceremony held on Sunday afternoon at Sheraton Hotel, Minister Mokonyane said even though Cuba was a small country, it was a country with a big heart.
“South Africans would not forget the many Cuban soldiers who sacrificed their lives in Angola and Namibia for the sake of the freedom of the Southern African nations. Even though referred to by some historians as the forgotten war, South Africa did not forget and we shall never forget.
“We still cherish the passion that was displayed by Fidel Castro and Che Guevara for their determination to liberate our nations. We also appreciate the fact that Cuban doctors are working with our national Department of Health to improve the quality of life of our people,” Minister Mokonyane said.
She said the Cubans should engage South Africans politically during their stay in SA.
“It’s all about development and the strengthening of relationships between South Africa and Cuba. Some of you will work in far flung rural areas where the nearest town is 70 kilometres from where you live.
“Your passion to serve and the pride to maintain your national identity is inspirational to us. We encourage you to establish new friendships and new relationships because it’s in the nature of human beings to establish relationships wherever they go,” the Minister said
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