Where did architects’ money go?

Dear Editor

Few things give greater pleasure to a commentator than a response from readers. When wrong or embarrassing facts or observations provoke a screed, the feeling is both good and bad. Bad in the sense that getting some facts wrong is never something to be proud of, but good in that a wordy response can reveal more than it explains, and what is not countered becomes more significant.

That is what happened after Cape Messenger revealed the extraordinary salaries paid to managers of the South African Council for the Architectural Profession (SACAP), and the reaction to them by Cape Town based architects.

The SACAP rebuttal was received by Cape Messenger via an external public relations company. It is 1,300 words long. The full text can be read here http://www.capemessenger.co.za/2017/02/28/messenger-got-wrong/

One immediate example of the gems hidden in it that provoke further comment is this: Why does the Council need to hire and pay for an external public relations company to prepare a rebuttal? The Council, after all claims its prime function is to protect the reputation of the architectural profession. Surely one of its skills should be writing.

The SACAP suggests that alarm within the architectural profession at the direction SACAP is taking is false. However the source is not rumour but the Council’s own 2016 annual report. It will be or is being read by all 10,000 members of the profession. Architects in Cape Town are clearly alarmed at the tenfold expansion of Council staff and the huge jump in the salaries.

The Council has every right to dispute interpretation of the numbers in the annual report but even corrected they still beg questions and demand more answers.

The observation that the Council has grown from a staff of three to one of 39 is ignored. Similarly skated over is the question whether architects need to be supervised by so many people who are not themselves practising architects, despite the law* saying that ”at least four must actively practise in the architectural profession”.  It is claimed that there is only one non-practising architect on the Council.

The architectural profession is not brought into disrepute by pointing out these apparent excesses. Architects themselves drew attention to the situation.

The real issue is whether the Council has turned itself from a body that registers professionals for a fee and uses this to fund an overblown, top–heavy unelected, bureaucratic structure whose members now enjoy more than comfortable salaries for doing what they deem needs to be done, rather than what the professionals require.

SACAP’s retort that it commissioned an external human resources consultant to advise it on “market-related” salary scales ”as far as possible’’ puts a dubious veneer of science on lumbering the profession with paying for more people than are clearly necessary and a bureaucratic structure that that mimics far richer organisations.

The Council’s claim that it is the “elected custodian” of the architectural profession’s reputation is patently false. It is not elected it is appointed.

‘We do not regard ourselves as ‘bureaucrats’ in the employ of government, but rather as service providers to a leading profession”. This begs the question,” What services does the Council provide to the profession?

Here is part of the Council’s answer:

“Council is committed to realising our vision of transforming, promoting and regulating people-centred architecture for South Africa.

“(The) Council is committed to realising our (sic) vision of transforming, promoting and regulating people-centred architecture for South Africa.

“To achieve this, we are invested in developing transparent relationships, built on integrity and accountability. The media is one of our important stakeholders with whom we engage in this manner”.

Is there anything in this that is a measureable benefit to architects who finance it all?

Aha, says the Council, pointing to its disciplinary procedures that punish recalcitrant architectural professionals and protect the public.

For decades a three-man Council did the job. To any objective observer what has happened looks like a classic case of empire building. Despite the Council’s response, it still looks that way.

Members of the architectural profession in the last decade have suffered a significant drop in income. At the same time the Council’s costs have ballooned.

“A public relations programme that promotes the profession at large to the public including property developers, home owners and other Built Environment professionals” which the Council claims as a major task, is not  mandated in the Act of Parliament** that established the Council.

It seems clear that it is therefore a misdirection of funds and effort. Despite the happy recommendations of external compensation consultants the Council hired, common sense must question whether a staff of 39 really justifies a post of Chief Operating Officer.

* Composition of council

The council consists of the following members, appointed by the Minister, taking into account, among other things, the principles of transparency and representivity (sic)…

(a) Seven registered persons, excluding candidates, of whom at least four must actively practise in the architectural profession…

 ** The Act

** The Architectural Professional Act, 2000 (Act No 44 of 2000)

Yours sincerely

Keith Bryer

Kalk Bay

Cape Messenger editor’s note: Bryer is an independent energy analyst and former journalist. He is a regular contributor to this online  newspaper

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