‘Infrastructure activists’ necessary to aid development

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“On the business side, we need to have more ‘infrastructure activists’ – you have to be a problem solver, you have to be somebody who is prepared to do things differently. It’s not about getting more money – the money will follow if the solution is good,” said J & J Group executive chairman, Jayendra Naidoo.

“One needs a kind of developer who is able to understand the risks that people face in the beginning of a plan, [someone] who can manage communication with different interest groups and who will have the skill to manage complex relationships between the construction suppliers [and] the contracting chain.”

Naidoo, speaking at Infrastructure Africa 2014 – a conference aimed at sharing ideas on creative infrastructure development solutions for the continent, stated that a change is needed in government as well as in business.

(READ MORE: Infrastructure funding in Africa relies on partnerships)

“On the government side, we need a different kind of approach – one which moves from the announcement of a plan to the management of the value chain,” he indicated.

Naidoo believes that this long-term value chain must be mindful of a number of factors including the time frame of the project, the investors, the various companies involved and the regulators.

“If our intension is to maximise job creation and long-term capacity can then become a source of delivery of goods and services, we need to have a perspective that goes beyond a term-based approach to politics,” he added.

While infrastructure backlogs have proved a hindrance to development in Africa, Naidoo emphasised the enormous potential within the continent.

“The finds in Mozambique of gas, the coal opportunity in Botswana, the hydro opportunity in places like the DRC have the potential to make this a huge energy-rich region [if] we are able to deliver industrial development on a robust scale,” he said.

However, he also stated that while the current generation can make a great difference regarding these projects, they are most likely opportunities for future generations to exploit.  

(READ MORE: Infrastructure still Africa’s biggest problem)

“We have a massive range of challenges and opportunities to redevelop these sectors – power, water and sanitation, transport, our mining infrastructure and social infrastructure – housing, health, education and sport,” Naidoo said.

“It’s also a great opportunity, from an investor point of view, to take a look into all these areas but the amount of time taken to go from concept to completion is far longer than the time it takes for a financial report to be issued to shareholders in a company, or in the five-year term of a politician.”