Failing Forward: How we turn mistakes into stepping stones

Central to the National Growth Path is the important role of infrastructure investment in being an enabler for economic growth and job creation in South Africa. Infrastructure development is proven to have a slightly higher multiplier and pro-poor effect than other forms of public spending. This is because infrastructure development has fewer leakages than other expenditure. Additionally the building and maintenance of infrastructure projects are less-skills intensive, meaning that skills can be easily sourced from the local economy.

While there have been positive developments in the infrastructure space, there have also been instances of failure by all levels of government and the private sector. The question is then how do all stakeholders involved in rolling out municipal infrastructure learn from their failings in a process known as “Failing Forward”? “Failing forward” in the context of infrastructural development, can be understood as finding ethical, collective and sustainable solutions to problems and challenges within the procurement and tendering process.

The implementation of infrastructural developments in municipalities has faced a number of challenges which include skills and institutional capacity challenges, shortcomings in governance, and financial hurdles by distressed municipalities. As a consequence of failing governance, corruption has been able to flourish between construction companies and local governments. The construction industry in the last 8 years has found itself in hot-water as local municipalities, national government and the Competition Commission have honed into the anti-competitive practices of the industry.

These practices include large-scale collusion in the tendering and procurement process between the industry’s largest players and the paying of kickbacks to fast-track tendering processes. This epidemic has found greatest expression in municipalities . These practices have largely been allowed to flourish because of breakdowns in the frameworks of governance in many municipalities across the country.

Despite multiple challenges there have been examples of “failing forward” in the construction industry. Through a process facilitated by the United Nations Global Compact, an integrity pact has been endorsed by the construction industry and government. This includes a commitment to create and strengthen platforms where the private and public sectors can come together to collaborate on anti-corruption initiatives. Additionally, the pact calls for companies and the government to educate and raise awareness among employees about the need for anti-corruption initiatives in the industry.

The cited initiative is a good example of the positive outcomes that are a result of local government, business and NGOs coming together to solve pressing societal problems. What is further encouraging is that the initiative cited is but a small example of similar initiatives between municipalities and business. These initiatives are the result of years of trust building between government and the private sector. Thus highlighting how “Failing Forward” can only work when all stakeholders are in it together for a common purpose.

This dialogue will explore how corruption has manifested between the private sector and local government
and what has been done to address this. It will also explore through facilitated discussion what needs to be in
place to support meaningful collaboration for improved service delivery.

To download the report click here: 20180816 ID_48 failing forward_report_final

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