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Construction colluders should get jail time - deputy commissioner

Sep 12 2017 16:18
Carin Smith

Cape Town - Parties involved in collusion in the construction industry won't stop their behaviour until they know they face jail sentences, according to Deputy Commissioner of the Competition Commission Hardin Ratshisusu.

"There will always be incentives to collude and it is still possible that it would happen in the construction industry. That is a challenge. You see people driving certain types of cars and don't know how they can afford them, for instance," Ratshisusu told delegates at the annual congress of Master Builders SA.

In his view, the construction industry needs three things: regulatory intervention, procurement intervention and transparent tenders.

"During apartheid cartels were sanctioned in the construction industry. That is why certain cement companies are where they are today," said Ratshisusu.

He explained that the Competition Commission has a whistle-blowing policy, which is the source of most of its cases.

"We put some sort of carrot for whistle blowers. It raises issues of integrity of management," he explained.

"Corruption and collusion are two-way streets. If in doubt, seek advice from the commission. There is a fee of R2 500 and the advice is not binding, but the commission is a public organisation. We are accessible."

He said the commission tries to stay within its "narrow lane" of competition enforcement.

"It is about how companies are treated. It is about fair treatment and fair access. We are not allowed to prosecute the government though, but we can make submissions to Parliament.

Cuban engineers

Another speaker at the congress was Xolile George, CEO of the South African Local Government Association (Salga).

He told delegates it is difficult for municipalities to attract skills, especially in tech and finance, and especially to certain municipalities.

"That is why municipalities will need strategic partnerships with the private sector - including in the construction industry - for instance regarding spatial development and to get greater economies of scale in order to deliver better services on the ground," said George.

"Building skills and finding alternative funding instruments are very important and we are collaborating with the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research on this, for instance."

It was asked during question whether Salga would continue to "bring in incompetent engineers from Cuba", while there are local engineers who cannot find jobs.

George answered that the Cuban engineers are competent, just like the Cuban doctors, and that the matter is in any event not a Salga issue, but an arrangement between the SA government and Cuba.

"It would be better to have a bilateral conversation about the position of local engineers. There is no policy to take engineers out of municipalities when we are actually battling to fill accounting and engineering positions," said George.

"There is no widespread recruitment of Cubans, so if we can find out of South African engineers being available, we could look to see how we can collaborate."

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