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ARCHITECTURE: Profession Faces Harsh Impact of New Bill


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The Built Environment Professions (BEP) Bill proceeded its progress through Parliament in the first week of September 2008, adding fuel to the fears within the Architectural Profession (and other Built Environment professions) of a new “super council” that will see political control being exerted over this domain.

The Bill proposes to collapse six (currently independent) professional Built Environment Councils (for architecture SACAP, engineering ECSA, quantity surveying SACQSP, landscape architects SACLAP, property valuing SACPVP and project management SACPMP) into one “super council” which affords the minister a large degree of political control over the professions in the built environment and virtually removes the role of professionals in critical processes of regulation of each of these professions. 

Proponents of the Bill, led by the Department of Public Works, believe that the consolidated move will see a more standardised approach across the profession, as well as ensure compulsory registration, improve governance and regulation, and top of the agenda -  ensure transformation amongst the affected disciplines.

“The South African Council for the Architectural Profession (SACAP) would like to draw attention to the Department of Public Works’ failure to communicate any targets for transformation or publish its own monitoring and review results over the past eight years, since the enactment of the current legislation – this raises the question, are the Build Environment Councils the scapegoats for the Department’s own shortcomings?” says Khotso Moleko, Vice President, SACAP.

SACAP takes issue with the way in which this Bill and the preceding policy document have gone through Parliamentary processes without any real consultation or consideration of alternatives that could have added much value to it.  “Our fear, as a result of this fundamentally flawed process, is that it may serve to create a great white elephant that has neither a link nor the buy-in of the professionals it intends to regulate – professions whose work has a fundamental and material impact on the health, well-being and safety of the public.  It could take the Built Environment back to the starting line, undoing many of the very important strides already achieved in transformation and international best practice,” explains Moleko.

Enormous progress has been made by SACAP, since 2003, in transforming the architectural profession.  The following examples can be sited in this respect:

In 2005, SACAP had four staff members who were all white.  It now has 16 staff members, three of whom are white and 13 of whom are black.  Of these black staff members, four are in management positions.

In respect of the four members of SACAP’s executive committee, three members are black and the remaining one is a white woman.

SACAP has accredited the architectural qualifications of ten universities, of which four are historically black universities and this accreditation is internationally recognised.

SACAP has achieved unprecedented transformation, in relation to numbers and demographics of registered professionals in the last five year cycle: In 2003 there were 3345 registered architectural professionals of whom 582 were women and 1880 were black. In 2008 there are 12823 registered architectural professionals (135% increase over 5 years);of which 6157 are black (227% increase) and 2328 are women (132% increase).

“Transformation is a process, it cannot happen overnight – rather it needs historically disadvantaged individuals to be educated in greater numbers in an enabling environment which will then support them as they enter the profession. The various skills sets on the Built Environment are scarce skills and in some cases they are critical skills. The issue here is that much of this has to do with the skills supply side from our educational system - which the Bill seems to ignore – riding roughshod over current legislation and accreditation systems in Higher Education. In this sense, the problem is much bigger than the professions. The schooling and Higher education systems (over which the Built environment professional Councils have no control) are precisely areas of bottle-necking in terms of supplying sufficient the numbers of entry level professionals to the system,” adds Moleko.

The Bill also poses a real threat to the global collaborations in terms of accords and recognition agreements.  Current international accords require the architectural profession to be independent in terms of its registration process, which includes peer review.  Government control could have severe consequences for candidate training and recognised prior learning (RPL) assessments, as well as for international accreditation for professionals.

Another point of SACAP’s opposition to the Bill is that only one seat will be set aside for each of the six existing professional councils. This, on a council consisting of 20 members, will place professional representation at a minority.  Furthermore, the far-reaching powers that the Bill proposes for the Minister of Public Works - some of which could even infringe on the authority of other Ministers, most notable the Education Minister - could also allow the Minister to arbitrarily exempt individuals or groups for the registration process.

Government should be mindful of the environment that is being created.  Professionals from the Built Environment are a scarce commodity, both nationally and internationally.  The BEP Bill could accelerate immigration of architectural professionals as well as reduce the attractiveness of this profession amongst the young people of our country.  This is highly regrettable and a cause for alarm, given that it would result from what appears to be uninformed and poorly drafted legislation.

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