SA spends R35m on Cuban engineers amid criticism

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Cape Town – The South African government will spend around R35m on Cuban engineers and water specialists over the next two years, according to the Department of Water and Sanitation.

On Monday, Minister of Water and Sanitation, Nomvula Mokonyane, welcomed 34 Cuban engineers who are set to share expertise with their SA counterparts in the water sector over the next two years.

Spokesperson for the department, Sputnik Ratau, told Fin24 that the main purpose of the 2014 bilateral agreement is sharing expertise and enhancing skills capacity in South Africa.

“We want to enhance what we have... because we are training some of the new recruits in the engineering and science disciplines through our learning academies in order to fast track some of those things and in order to assist them to be able to achieve their professional registration,” he said.

“But also when you look at what Cuba has done in terms of water management and some of the other aspects for which we have employed them; Cuba has done very much in comparison with other countries worldwide. [Despite] the fact that they have been blockaded and that they are a third world country.”

Slap in the face

Rights group AfriForum has strongly criticised the deal saying it is a slap in the face of South Africans.

In a media statement AfriForum said that South Africa has its own experts who have years of experience in the water industry and who have effectively constructed and managed the water infrastructure in the country.

“It is unacceptable that the custodian of our water makes political decisions like this, excluding South African candidates from critical positions that need to be occupied sustainably,” Julius Kleynhans, head of environmental affairs at AfriForum, said.

“Our water facilities are deteriorating due to the incompetence of current water management, procurement policies and regulation. We need to make use of our own specialists who know our systems. They must be the mentors and leaders for young local engineers. Water is such a critical resource and we need to manage it responsibly,” he said.

Deputy director level

According to Ratau the Cuban engineers and specialists will be paid at deputy director level on the SA government salary scale. Cost to the government will be approximately R500 000 per employee per annum.

Among the specialists are: Civil engineers, Electrical engineers, Mechanical engineers, Irrigation and drainage specialists, and Hydraulic engineers.

South Africa faces myriad problems with its aging water infrastructure. The department of Water and Sanitation has indicated in 2014 that it needs approximately R600bn to address the problem.

In her budget speech last year, Minister Mokonyane said that 10% of existing water systems were dysfunctional and that a further 26% were not reliable.

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