Minister of provincial and local government Sicelo Shiceka on Thursday launched the Ukulungisa Project Preparation Fund, to address the significant challenges that municipalities faced in preparing and initiating infrastructure projects.

Infrastructural challenges and backlogs at the municipal and provincial levels were significant, as was evident from numerous, at times violent, service delivery protests having taken place across South Africa this year.

“Many projects are poorly procured, badly structured, or inappropriately prioritised,” he emphasised, while addressing delegates at the Support programme for accelerated infrastructure development conference in Midrand.

The project was currently in its pilot stage, and would move into full implementation in 2009.

Shiceka also made a strong appeal to municipalities and provincial departments to measure and report their infrastructure backlogs, so as to give a clearer picture of what needed to be done to address the challenges.

“I will be crisscrossing the country in the next few weeks,” Shiceka said, noting that he would be visiting municipalities and provincial departments and asking them to provide details of infrastructure bottlenecks to be addressed. He had started the call in the Eastern Cape.

The fund would provide much-needed project preparation services to municipalities, where they were fully funded at no risk to the municipality, and were provided in terms of a bilateral agreement signed with the municipality. An agreed service fee for project preparation would only be payable to the fund by the municipality when a particular project succeeded in obtaining approval for capital funding for project implementation.

The Ukulungisa project preparation fund was a special purpose section 21 company, and a joint venture between the Infrastructure Finance Corporation, and the Project Preparation Trust. Its core business was the funding and management preparation of municipal infrastructure projects, particularly those addressing poverty and basic levels of service backlogs.

Municipalities, particularly those in rural areas, often suffered with ageing and insufficient infrastructure constraints. Many municipalities also lacked the appropriate technical and managerial skills to correctly operate and maintain infrastructure in many instances.

“If we act together and align our priorities and funding mechanisms accordingly, I have no doubt that we can deliver,” concluded Shiceka.