Maintenance of Public Infrastructure

Poor maintenance of public infrastructure assets shortens their useful lives, precipitates faults, hastens breakdown, undermines service delivery and increase backlogs in access to amenities.  Well maintained infrastructure, on the other hand, serves consumers needs, underpins economic production and, with it, employment, taxes and rates. Adequate spending on care of assets leverages public expenditure by protecting investment already made in infrastructure and helping to sustain service delivery.  In the face of its obvious advantages, why did municipalities in 2011/2012 all together actually spend 22% less than was budgeted for maintenance, a massive 40% below recommended levels (Financial and Fiscal Commission 2013)?

The causes of no- to- low maintenance is variously attributed to inadequate funding for maintenance, severe technical skills shortages, deferment of preventative maintenance, diversion of budgets to other (pressing) recurrent expenditure, and the failure to embed integrated systems for asset management in government structures.   Numerous studies and audits have proved these points. South Africa, moreover, has not ignored the problem. Finance officials have tried to tighten regulations to force compliance with maintenance norms, national government has tried to repair institutional capabilities with successive waves of technical support and turn-around campaigns, private sector groups have tried partnerships. Affected communities have staged protests.

What is truly driving institutional behavior regarding maintenance? Are pronouncements about the causes of maintenance problems sufficiently focused to show up what the solutions are?  Do role players understand what is driving their counter-parties? This Dialogue aims, in the usual Infrastructure Dialogue spirit, to contribute to practical, multi-stakeholder debate and recommendations for actions by all parties that will contribute to proper maintenance of public infrastructure. By launching the dialogue with a panel of speakers, each of whom has been charged with reflecting on what is within their powers to influence, plus what else needs to be done, this dialogue aims to make participants help formulate a holistic strategy for maintenance.

The Infrastructure Dialogues are hosted jointly by the Development Bank of Southern Africa, the South African Cities Network, the National Business Initiative and Performance Monitoring and Evaluation Department in the Presidency, with the Engineering News as Media Sponsor.

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