Joburg’s woes continue

The Johannesburg Roads Agency’s R50m asphalt plant ‘has been down for over five months’.
The city does however have a plan, and has advertised for an operations manager to run the plant. Image: Supplied

The Johannesburg Roads Agency (JRA), an entity within the City of Joburg, is currently unable to produce asphalt at a R50 million plant it acquired in 2017.

As lockdown eased and the JRA began tackling an enormous pothole backlog, reports suggested that a “shortage of input materials” was to blame. This was not the case. The plant has not produced a single kilogram of asphalt for over five months.

Launched with much fanfare by then-Mayor Herman Mashaba in August 2018, the plant in Booysens was intended to “speed up service delivery”. But it has been plagued by breakdowns and “operational issues”.

A long-awaited report tabled to the city’s transport committee reveals that the “plant has not met any of [its] production targets”.

The original plan was so ambitious that the JRA projected it would be able to sell 30% of production “to projects at a price competitive with private asphalt suppliers”, which would aid its viability.

The report reveals that in the first year of operation (2018/2019), the plant only produced 68 655 tons of asphalt, far below its target of 150 000 tons.

That it managed to achieve 45% of its target in that year seems to have been commendable as the report notes the “underperformance of the plant has been the case in [the] second year (2019/20) and [the] first quarter of the current year (2020/21)”.

No further production data is provided, but given the increasing number of operational challenges, it is likely to have been far worse than just 45%. In fact, the report says in July the plant was “not operational” for the whole of July “due to procurement challenges related to gas supply”. Beyond the specific issues in that month, it also says the plant has been plagued by “low pressure gas supply” which “impacts production rate”.

This is not the only operational hindrance. The usual twin problems in local government – “shortage of supply of materials and internal human resource challenges” – are also present in this instance.

But the problems run far deeper.

Of the 14 “additional challenges” listed in the report, these six are especially damning:

  • The two-year warranty plan that came with the plant has lapsed and not [been] renewed;
  • Lack of proper and effective routine and preventative maintenance;
  • Legal/contractual dispute with the service provider that supplied and installed the plant;
  • The lapse of the operation and maintenance contract;
  • None of the JRA personnel were trained and certified in running and maintaining the plant; [and]
  • Absence of competent and certified personal to efficiently operate the plant.

In other words, the city rushed the procurement of this plant without much thought as to how it would operate it sustainably in the long term.

Read: Joburg is broken (Nov 2020)

The report highlights that because the warranty has lapsed, this “implies that the entire risk of running the plant is now with JRA and the original manufacturer cannot be held liable [for] any operational failures and damages”.

It adds: “This risk is exacerbated by the fact that when the original manufacturer left, there was no skills transfer to JRA staff and JRA employees do not have the necessary certification to operate the plant.”

It gets worse.

The laboratory is described as “not functioning”, the site is not secured with an electric fence or alarm system or cameras, and the report calls the current organogram/structure “misaligned” to the needs of the plant.

The report notes matter-of-factly “the employees at both the asphalt plant and [the] laboratory are currently not working whereas being paid”.

This is obviously untenable.

But the report does present a clear plan of action.

In the short term, it says “there is an urgent need to procure, on a term contract basis, a technical advisor/specialist asphalt plant operator whom among other critical low hanging actions will assist in a detailed diagnosis of the operational issues”.

It says: “This would reduce the risk associated with the lapsed plant warranty as the operator would ensure that the plant is operated accordingly, reducing the risk for technical breakdowns, and renew or procure [a] warranty on behalf of JRA.”

The JRA this week advertised for the position of ‘Operations Manager: Asphalt Plant’ on a 12-month fixed-term contract. Further, it suggests procuring “the services of specialist training entity to assist” with the training of personnel. The organogram will also be redesigned, with clear accountability for production, maintenance and commercial.

Read: Finally! R446m in rates relief for Joburg residents, businesses (Aug 2020)

In the medium term, however, the city seems to have realised it may actually be best to get out of the asphalt-producing business.

The report to the committee says: “Management is of the view that the JRA board should consider going to the private market and seek expression of interests for [a] public private partnership (PPP) to operate, capacity development and hand over the plant over a determined period. This approach might require an establishment of a special purpose vehicle (SPV) which will require support and approval from the city. It is evident that to run the plant in a viable manner requires a more long-term approach than rushing to open it while it is not being used efficiently.

“It is management’s view that adopting the mid-term approach is more appropriate to avoid the continuous waste of resources.

“In the meantime, JRA will utilise the panel of asphalt suppliers to address all operational requirements.”

Sanity, then? Perhaps.

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What a tragic show of incompetency. This project was born to fail and we all know why, don’t we? This asphalt plant is a mini SOE and nothing good comes from SOE’s.

It’s the road users fault for driving on roads in the rain..Blame WMC and Apartheid..Never the ANC!

And all along we’ve been told that everything is because of global warming.

I am an engineer and work with roads, so I have intimate knowledge of this issue and of shenanigans in organizations like the JRA. If you attend meetings with them, as I have, you will find that due to political ideology, they categorically refuse to appoint engineers of an incorrect hue. The JRA even went as far as to appoint Nigerians when there were only politically incorrect candidates available, even though the latter were South African citizens.

So sad. So much hatred against pale skins. The ideology of BEE was a noble one (to correct the ills of the past); but it is now dragging the country down because the implementation is gone horribly wrong. There is fronting, inadequate skills, sub contracting which adds to costs, fly by night, payment for work made upfront.

Thanks for sharing your experience, Incitatus. It seems a common theme – professionals working within various specialised sectors all have horror stories about state bodies and the mismanagement that occurs under their watch.

Unless you are actively involved in the sector, the first time you hear about it is in articles like this, which usually come once the damage caused has already reached a point of no return.

Intelligent and competent people appoint other intelligent and competent people. It is impossible for stupid and incompetent people to appoint people below them, who are far superior to them. They perceive intelligence and skills as a threat, to be prevented. Incompetent people feel humiliated and threatened in the presence of competent people. They like to appoint feeble fools who laugh and joke all the time. It is comforting to stupid and incompetent people. We can use an ANC NEC meeting as an example.

Therefore, stupid people will always appoint stupid people. That explains to a certain extent, why, even though they are not racists, they won’t appoint whites. In some weird and unscientific way, they associate whiteness with skills, intelligence and competence. I don’t know why? Do you?

We have to get back to where we employ people on merit even if they are white. In the past we took hiring on merit for granted but that system truly works the best no matter what their race or gender. We need the most competent person particularly in positions of power. I believe this is the single most important reason why South Africa has declined over the past 27 years.

People with dubious mental capability and qualifications, if any, can ruin a business or government is a very short space of time.

Hiring on merit, is absolutely essential.

However, folks. There is light at the end of the tunnel. The ANC does have a “clear plan of action”. There I was thinking that privatisation and outsourcing of such functions was the solution…

Story of Africa , story of South Africa as the rainbow nation.

Good old Shidas touch by the SA Government. And was it the DA this time?

Joburg Municipality is so broken from ANC corruption and mismanagement that it may be impossible to repair properly.

Then they want to “build a nation”??

With what????


Wonder if this plant was bought on a tender from China ?

Sure it was, the tender and specs were agreed as was the price. Then they down scaled it, trimmed and ripped out most of its reliability and capacity. Waived the warrantee too, BUT the price stayed the same, loot was shared out.

Writing and interpreting specs included in tender offerings requires more skill than most government and municipalities employees process.

Came from Spain (like our too-tall locomotives)…

Yeah but are we going to fix the potholes or not?

@jblack: Short answer – NO.

If you want potholes fixed then you’ve gotta fix them yourself. Otherwise it’s not gonna happen.

Does CoJ still have engineers and technicians employed to run things and plan for the future?

Privatize everything as soon as possible, CoJ does not know how to look after assets bought with taxpayer money.

Privatising will not work. The deadwood currently employed – paid for doing nothing – will never accept retrenchment / go on strike for not getting paid the same as competent people would have to / etc. etc. Like our SOE’s, infiltrated with stupid and costing twice as much. Cannot be resurrected. Needs to be buried and replaced with a new and competent organisation. But where do you find such? Socially engineered, below par workforce is all that’s available. So it’s tickets. I have come to accept that we are well on the way to the cliff’s edge. I am no longer a patriotic citizen, caring about a homeland. That’s all gone. Simply a spectator watching the inevitable demise and enjoying the schadenfreude being supplied by the stupids. That’s all that’s left. Systematically moving out.

People must accept that nothing will change, the system has been set up for failure. Even if some people in the system are competent their efforts will be dwarfed by the rest.

This is as good an example if ever there was one that social engineering is no substitute skills nohow and competence. All of which appears to be absent in this case once more. It is time that the policies of AA and BEE are revisited for the wellbeing of the whole country.

This article does not make any real plan apparent for this plant- other than craftily (not!) creating a scapegoat via a 12 month employment contract for a very unfortunate operations manager?

The outlined potential arbitrage to civil servants via a sell-off back to private interest also seems on rocky ground, if not sunk deep into in the marsh (or disappeared down a crater sized pothole like the rest of us).

With the high care and maintenance requirements being neglected, porous security and strip off of skills and services at the plant it is most likely a monstrous environmental and financial disaster.

You could not make this stuff up and probably not even give it away- Another case for OUTA, reclaim from the pilferers or ascertain the source(s) of incompetenced and liability?

How to get the road network back into essential productive operational levels minus the political rot? As is being so well illustrated about politics- you cannot eat it and it does not burn very well!

I doubt Cyril Ramaphosa himself hands on could have seen fruition of this project. Logical thinking is missing in the ANC since President Mbeki left

This is the problem with Centrally controlling things, it sounds and looks really good but not even todays most advanced AI can constantly plan and replan the ongoing needs of society.

Today, the most successful business are those which subcontract 80% of their services. Working in construction quite a while it may not be the most profitable route however it is the most effective and least risky whilst allowing the business to tender for almost any size project.

A study was completed in the US regarding successful and unsuccessful construction projects ( which i am using to illustrate the point of service delivery), projects which value exceed $50M or directly employee more than 100 people tend to be delayed and run up losses.

What this means, if a municipality needs to run successfully they should rather employee highly skilled managers and subcontract all the service delivery products. Its it much easier to hold a single SSME business accountable than +5,000 employees.

At the end of the day, Tax Payers are not getting any value for money, its a corrupt affair and the reason no real growth is being seen.

To think how major listed construction companies have collapsed in SA that could have run several plants like this and execute the repairs 24/7/365.

As basically edzachary the same issues as with Eskom, to a tee.

And then there is that dastardly word again “maintenance”.

To be expected in Africa. Check the IQ level.

and the app for potholes cost R15m to develop (should’ve been less than R1m), won’t be fixed (needs a new certificate for a few rands, wasn’t done for 2 years), and now they’re tendering for a new app…

End of comments.



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