Labour union Solidarity has announced it will serve court papers on the Minister of Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation, Lindiwe Sisulu, over the use of Cuban engineers to help fix the country’s water crisis.
Solidarity said the legal process would be seeking the disclosure of information and an interdict to stop the deployment process of the Cuban engineers.
It is also lodging an application for a review of the government’s decision.
The union previously threatened legal action over the issue, but delayed this after the minister had requested to submit a proposal to defuse the dispute between Solidarity and the government.
However, Sisulu failed to meet an extended deadline given by Solidarity for providing the proposal.
Solidarity chief executive Dirk Hermann said the union was disappointed in the minister.
“Apart from the fact that the government did not meet the deadline, the minister also did not respond to critical/key legal questions posed by Solidarity,” Hermann said.
“Important information is still being withheld from the public. It should not be that difficult to obtain information about the use of tax money.”
“We need to break the secrecy surrounding the arrival of the Cubans, what they are supposed to do, how the money would be spent and whether the Cuban engineers are registered,” Hermann said.
The announcement in April that 24 Cuban engineers had been called in to assist in fixing the country’s water crisis has been mired in controversy.
The department said that the engineers would act as as advisors at provincial and local levels across the country, and share their “vast skills in the areas of mechanical, electrical, and civil engineering, as well as project management”.
It also revealed the project would cost R64 million.
Opposition parties, labour organisations, and representatives in the engineering industry have slammed the move, questioning why government would not use local expertise in this initiative.
The Engineering Council of South Africa (ECSA) has also pointed out that the engineers were not registered to perform the work for which they had been brought to South Africa.
In order for them to be allowed to sign off on engineering projects or designs, their qualifications would have to be assessed to determine whether it met the necessary standards of the NQF Act.
If they were not registered, they would have to work under highly-qualified South African engineers and could only do basic work.
Solidarity said the review application asks that government’s decision to import Cubans be declared invalid.
This is based on two submissions:
- It is argued that the decision to import Cubans while South African skills are available is not rational.
- It would be unlawful for Cubans to undertake and sign off on professional engineering projects as they do not comply with the South African registration and accreditation requirements.
Hermann added that if the engineers were merely intended to fulfil a mentorship role, the R64 million paid for the project would make it the most expensive mentorship programme in South Africa’s history.
“All of this will contribute to the totally illogical decision to import the Cubans,” Hermann stated.
Solidarity has also brought an application for the deployment of the Cuban engineers to be stopped pending the review application.
While it was proceeding with legal action, Solidarity said further talks with government should not be ruled out.