Architects take on ‘bully’ council

A group of architects has accused its regulatory body and registrar of maladministration, corruption, nepotism and the appointment of underqualified council members.

Architects for Change have called for the South African Council for the Architectural Profession (Sacap) to be dissolved, lamenting a “disastrous state of affairs”.

“We have repeatedly warned both government and professional bodies about the impending demise of the profession that we now see today,” says the group in its petition.

It was signed by about 1 000 members of the 10 000-member profession. Architects for Change members asked not to be named for fear of reprisal.

“Good governance has been completely eroded by the careless appointment of administrators and council members without the requisite qualifications and compounded by vested interests,” the group said.

Sacap registers professional architects and monitors the profession’s standards and qualifications.

The group has demanded the immediate dissolution of the council and board, and a forensic investigation into the affairs of the council and the registrar’s activities.

It says board members were appointed without relevant qualifications and, in some instances, experience and that the board had failed to investigate allegations of maladministration and corruption by the registrar.

The registrar, Marella O’Reilly, served previously as the acting registrar/chief executive of the Health Professions Council of South Africa. In 2012, she was suspended, pending the outcome of an investigation into allegations that she had “failed to execute decisions and resolutions made by the council’s executive committee, which resulted in continued expenditure”.

Architects for Change said board members were paying themselves exorbitantly. According to Sacap’s 2016 annual report, salary jumps included a 76% increase for its president Yashaen Luckan. O’Reilly’s salary increased from R1-million in 2015 to R2.6-million in 2016.

Responding to this, O’Reilly said that, prior to her appointment in 2014, Sacap did not have a functioning human resources unit, with a structured and approved salary scale for employees. The organisation was also in “a defunct state” and needed a strategy to ensure it “could fulfil its regulatory mandates and stated transformation objectives”.

Luckan said the group had not provided evidence to support its claims.

Section 8 of the Architectural Profession Act No 44 of 2000 deals with the council’s powers to appoint the registrar/chief executive and determine their salaries and allowances. An independent service provider had been appointed to conduct a skills audit, job grading and an appropriate remuneration scale for the whole Sacap organisation.

“The recommendations were approved by the HR [human resources] remuneration committee, the finance committee as well as the council. Sacap is of the view that the registrar/chief executive’s salary, performance bonus and other allowances have therefore been appropriately benchmarked,” Luckan said.

But the minutes of the March 26 meeting reveal that council member Diane Arvanitakis was “uncomfortable with ExCo [executive committee] approving proposed structure”.

The benchmarking exercise was conducted by Litha-Lethu Management Solutions. Its final report makes no mention of the need for salary adjustments. Architects for Change was also concerned about an outside company doing the skills audit.

“We can’t understand why this skills audit was outsourced when this is one of the functions of the human resources and remunerations committee,” says Themba Sithole (a pseudonym).

In a letter addressed to the portfolio committee on public works, an Architects for Change member accused O’Reilly of appointing Litha-Lethu and of not following proper supply-chain management procedure.

“The director of Litha-Lethu, Ms Sian Dennis, is a close friend of Ms Marella O’Reilly,” the letter added.

O’Reilly said the salary increases were the result of the appointment of a human resources consultant, which had been approved by Sacap’s council “after a lengthy tender process”. The consultant did a skills audit and competency assessment on all Sacap employees.

“Each of the positions identified on the structure was then graded and a market-related benchmarked salary scale for the different positions on the structure was compiled,” she said.

Another concern raised by Architects for Change was that the Sacap website continued to list Gillian Bolton as its treasurer. This despite Bolton “not [having] participated in any Sacap activities since December 2015 due to a dispute with Sacap”.

Bolton said: “This is of concern to me. But the matter is in the hands of my lawyers as there are other issues which need to be resolved.”

The group also said O’Reilly had ensured that, instead of complying with the Public Finance Management Act, Sacap was now bound only to “endeavour rather employ good governance principals [sic]”.

Sithole says “this allows the registrar to increase salaries willy-nilly”.

Architects for Change said there was no Identity of Work (IDoW) framework, which sets categories of architectural work and designates which professionals belong to each category — so that buildings are safe and the public and environment are protected.

Architect Jean Grové said: “This is specialised work, which may cause material damage — and loss of life — if not done properly in the case of engineers, architects and possibly landscape architects. These professions carry large responsibility, and the public cannot reasonably be expected to evaluate the competency of someone claiming to be capable of doing the work.”

One of the group’s members said: “For a regulatory body not to protect the general public through not having an IDoW in place is placing the public at great risk.

“The fact that a client won’t know the difference between a draughtsman and an architect and what fees are relevant to those categories of professionals is a big risk.

“But it goes beyond registration. It talks to competencies, relevant training in order for you to undertake work of that nature. It’s like a nurse saying: ‘I’ve watched the surgeon doing this for 20 years, so let me give it a shot.’ That’s how ludicrous this has become. That it’s open and free to all. And this is [of] huge detriment to the public.”

Luckan responded that the IDoW policy, compiled and submitted by the previous council, was rejected by the Competition Commission because it infringed competition laws.

The framework document is deemed to be founded on architectural work reservation, which, in the opinion of the Competition Commission, is anticompetitive and restrictive.”

He said six similar built environment professional councils, harmonised by the Council for the Built Environment, face this same problem.

In an SABC 2 discussion between Luckan and Architects for Change member Krynauw Nel, Luckan said: “We welcome the petition. We are open to collaboration.”

Shortly after signing the petition, Amina Reddy (not her real name), a member of Women in Architecture KwaZulu-Natal, was reprimanded by Sacap for “professional misconduct” and that signing the petition was “reasonable grounds to suspect that you have committed an act which may render you guilty of improper conduct”.

Reddy said: “They are basically trying to silence professionals from speaking. But my right to freedom of expression is protected by the Constitution. In signing that petition, I am not guilty in any way of professional misconduct.”

Said Sithole: “When Sacap issues these kinds of threats, saying things like, ‘we will withdraw your recognition’, what they are essentially saying is ‘we will shut your business down’, because we can’t work if we are not registered with them. They are bullies.” 

 

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Carl Collison
Carl Collison
Carl Collison is a freelance journalist who focuses primarily on covering queer-related issues across Africa

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