Despite the government’s commitment to an infrastructure-led post-Covid-19 economic recovery, estimated civil tender values slumped by 58% in the second quarter of 2020 compared to the same quarter in 2019.
Construction market intelligence firm Industry Insight said the average national postponement rate also increased to 27.1%, with Gauteng reporting the highest rate of postponement at 169%.
Elsie Snyman, the chief executive of Industry Insight, said this clearly shows the full impact of Covid-19 on the construction sector in the second quarter.
Snyman said this slump in civil tender values follows five previous consecutive quarters of positive growth, including double-digit growth in the past four quarters, as the civil industry finally started gearing for a more positive outlook in 2020.
“These seemingly improved fortunes were quickly reversed as lockdown restrictions from the end of March continue to impact rather harshly on the economy and the civil sector,” she said.
President Cyril Ramaphosa said in an address to the nation on April 21 that central to the economic recovery strategy to address the impact of Covid-19 will be the measures the government will embark on to stimulate demand and supply. This would be done through interventions such as a substantial infrastructure build programme, the speedy implementation of economic reforms, the transformation of the economy, and embarking on all other steps that will ignite inclusive economic growth.
Speaking at the inaugural Sustainable Infrastructure Development Symposium of South Africa (Sidssa) in June, Ramaphosa reiterated and stressed that the severe damage caused by the pandemic, and the damage it continues to cause, has not diminished the government’s determination to drive an ambitious and sustainable infrastructure development programme.
“To the contrary, the coronavirus pandemic has made infrastructure investment even more compelling, even more important and even more urgent.
“That is why we have placed infrastructure at the centre of the stimulus our economy needs to achieve a sustainable recovery,” said Ramaphosa.
Dr Kgosientsho Ramokgopa, head of investment and infrastructure in the Office of The Presidency, told the same symposium that finance institutions have made firm commitments running into “tens of billions of rand” for a host of planned infrastructure projects in South Africa.
Ramokgopa said this is money that will be coming into the country “so we are not relying on the fiscus to ensure we are able to get these projects going”.
No further announcements from government
However, the government has not made any further announcements about these investments and the projects to which the funding is committed.
Prior to the symposium, the Presidency said the Sidssa projects will be gazetted after the symposium and have been selected from an initial 177 projects that underwent a rigorous due diligence process.
Construction industry bodies are unaware to date of any Sidssa projects being gazetted.
Snyman said the government is actively seeking funding for what it proclaims will be a “decade-long building boom”.
She said government needs R1.5 trillion of infrastructure investment over the next decade to finance projects ranging from water and sanitation to energy and digital infrastructure.
Private sector ‘ready to invest’
Snyman quoted Futuregrowth Asset Management portfolio manager Jason Lightfoot as stating that the private sector is ready to invest provided projects are well structured and managed.
Industry Insight also revealed that the value of Construction Industry Development Board (CIDB) Grade 9 civil projects out to tender fell by 25% year on year in the first two quarters of 2020 as fewer higher value projects were put out to tender.
Snyman said several higher value projects were still awarded during the first and second quarters of the year, but the future of these projects may be uncertain given the current financial constraints on the fiscus and limited scope for further borrowing following the country’s potentially imminent debt crisis.
Gauteng bearing the brunt
She said the value of tenders issued in Gauteng slumped significantly in the second quarter of and was almost 60% lower year on year in the first two quarters.
Snyman said no CIDB Grade 8 or Grade 9 projects were put out to tender in the second quarter to continue the downward trajectory of the first quarter.
However, Snyman said the value of projects awarded improved by 103% in the second quarter – but with a 47% decline in the value of tenders issued, the outlook has turned more negative for the province.
“Of further concern is the sharp rise in the postponement rate to 169% in the current quarter [from 23% the previous quarter].
“This is well above the national average of 27.1% and the highest postponement rate across the country,” she said. “This suggests a notable increase in the number of projects [already put out to tender] that have been postponed during the second quarter.”
Industry Insight also revealed that the value of road projects put out to tender decreased by 67% in the second quarter of 2020 while the value of water projects fell by 53%.
Construction firms ‘hardly coping’
SA Forum of Civil Engineering Contractors CEO Webster Mfebe said on Tuesday the forum’s members are “hardly coping” and that the statistics reflect the true sentiment in the civil engineering industry, which is “going south”.
Mfebe is puzzled at what is causing the delay in the announcement of Sidssa projects.
“Your guess is as good as mine. We have been eating hope all the time. What this economy needs is not only the intention to invest in infrastructure but infrastructure implementation, which is lagging behind.
“For the symposium and all other forums that have dealt with these matters to have value, we have to see results on the ground,” he said.
Mfebe said one of the biggest fears currently is that thousands of workers employed in the construction sector will become part of the unemployment statistics.
“That does not bode well for the country in terms of social stability because these people have to survive. Some end up in crime syndicates to survive and some end up disrupting [construction] sites to demand participation,” he said.
Mfebe added that he has been warning about the decimation of the capacity and capability of the South African construction industry and that it could result in a situation where foreign rather than local companies become beneficiaries of the infrastructure build programme.
“That will be a game changer in terms of aggravating tensions that already exist over concerns that foreign companies are favoured over local companies.”