By Songo Didiza

A wide variety of socio-economic challenges are currently affecting South Africa’s urban infrastructure systems. Water restrictions are rapidly becoming the most pressing of these and are certainly one we all can’t avoid. South Africa is arguably one of the few driest countries that still flush down drinkable water down the drain, and at this stage, we must accept that we all have a shared accountability towards water conversation.

Government can’t be left with the sole responsibility to respond to these challenges.  Also, it certainly does not have the man power to do so alone. Instead what is needed is an integrated approach to resolves these challenges.

The current water infrastructure systems are struggling to keep up with the rapid increases in water demand services driven by a combination of economic activities and society’s living requirements as a whole.

As a first, citizens can accept the shared responsibility by adopting sustainable practices by changing our behavioural patterns through using grey and black water to flush the toilet, and by using grey water for irrigation.

On an urban infrastructure basis, government and the private sector can combine planning efforts through effective Private Public Partnerships (PPPs) which can be used in the creation of physical state owned assets and services. Examples of these exists in projects such as the Gautrain project, Richards Bay desalination plant, and  Environment House a resource efficient building which is owned by the Department of Environmental Affairs.

The common thread between these infrastructure projects is their combined response to the needs of society and the need to lower carbon emissions – Take that Mr Trump!

These integrated clean technology projects can be used strategically to meet wider environmental and social goals such as carbon emission mitigation, promoting resource efficiency, creation of green jobs and promoting innovation in planned infrastructure programmes.

Although there is a national PPP framework in place, one must also look at it being easier to understand and National Treasury must provide insight on how this can be used to fast track the country’s National Development Plan objectives.

Carefully considered PPPs can help ensure the following:

  1. Minimise the financial burden on government as the risk is shared with a private partner. PPPs should seek to achieve optimum risk transfer between the public and private sectors and also to subsequently allocate risk within the private partner or consortium.

These risks may be associated with the investment, design, construction or operation of an asset, such as a public building or civil engineering works, or the provision of services, such as waste or water management which typically require a significant capital investment.

  1. In some cases there is minimal capital layout by the government department. Therefore in the case of PPPs the project funding can be provided by the implementing partner (s) thereby ensuring cost effectiveness and time management efficiencies.
  2. During implementation of the project government can enforce that the following objectives are met by the infrastructure project:
  3. Local enterprise development by procuring from local suppliers and businesses;
  4. Capacity Building of government staff since the skill set is in the private sector; and
  5. Partnering with a research partner such a university or college to ensure that the peer to peer learning efforts are transferred successfully. An example is the accreditation of training and capacity building efforts provided by the private sector partner.

Economic transformation in PPPs

PPPs also present government with a major opportunity to promote its economic transformation programmes through the training and upskilling of young, unemployed HDSA professionals on technical skills such as energy and water auditing, green design methods, conditional assessments, and Measurement & Verification (M&V). These skills are in high demand in the local green building industry and can be exported to the rest of the continent.

Some successful implemented PPPs include the Gautrain project, Renewable Energy Independent Power Purchase Programme (REI4P), Richards Bay Desalination plant and Environment House. The common thread between these infrastructure projects is their combined response to the needs of society and the need to lower carbon emissions and have also resulted in green job creation. In essence, this is what a green economy entails.

Risk mitigation though Green PPPs

Lastly, it should be noted that infrastructure PPPs alone will not deliver value for money for the public purse in the absence of rigorous contracts, comprehensive feasibility studies and good governance by all contracting partners.

The public authority must always be in a position to rigorously assess whether the proposed PPP contract is bankable in light of the surrounding market conditions. When done well, the private sector can also deliver the projects more efficiently than government, like in the case of the Gautrain project.

Upcoming GGC2017 Conference

The upcoming GGC2017 Conference will create a platform where government can assess their energy and water resource consuming facilities and work with green building experts to identity suitable interventions for reducing consumption levels.

The conference will also serve as an engagement platform where more critical issue surrounding existing infrastructure assets particularly government operated buildings and services can be tackled.

*Songo Didiza is the Green Building Design Group’s executive director.