In a week of tumultuous South African political news, as Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan’s battle with the National Prosecuting Authority came to a head, a crucial infrastructure story broke to little fanfare.
The South African Forum for Civil Engineering Contractors (SAFCEC) announced that under its auspices, most of the major listed construction companies reached an historic, unique and far-reaching voluntary agreement with the South African government.
The signing of this settlement ends years of dispute between the construction companies and government following findings of collusion by the Competition Commission investigation launched in 2009. The agreement commits the parties to chart a new future co-operative trajectory underpinned by measurable commitments to empowerment and transformation.
Collectively, the construction companies will make a combined contribution of R1.25 billion ($87.5 million) over 12 years into a trust fund to be controlled by a board of trustees appointed from government, the construction companies and SAFCEC. Each year, individual companies will pay between R15 million ($1 million) and R21.25 million ($1.5 million).
This voluntary contribution is in addition to the R1.46-billion ($100-million) penalty imposed by the Competition Commission Tribunal on some companies in 2013.
The trust will use the payments to develop and enhance the construction industry in line with government’s transformation goals and to develop emerging contractors and suppliers in South Africa.
Initiatives to be supported by the fund will include financial support for young trainee artisans and engineers from disadvantaged backgrounds, support for the teaching of maths and science at public schools, funding for social infrastructure and the development and promotion of construction companies owned and managed by black people.
The funding will also be used for the appointment of professionals to provide the government with engineering, project management and other services to strengthen its capacity to deliver the public infrastructure.
Combatting large-scale collusion and corruption, opportunities for South African companies in infrastructure projects elsewhere on the continent will be identified.
The construction companies have also individually undertaken to either develop up to three emerging black-owned businesses or dispose of a portion of their South African basic construction businesses to majority black-owned enterprises.
The agreement provides a framework for settlement of claims by the industry regulator, the Construction Industry Development Board (CIDB), as well as civil claims by public entities against companies investigated by the Competition Commission.
The positive implications of the Competition Commission extend beyond South Africa’s borders. The investigation was active in other territories and being watched across Africa and the rest of the world. Foreign competitors gained ground in these markets because our construction groups were not supported by the South African government until a resolution was found.
That is all set to change now and perhaps South Africa can hunt as a pack and claw back markets and jobs for the benefit of people and suppliers in those territories and within South Africa.
Those who have followed my column will have noted my consistent call for an end to the destructive standoff between the South African government and the construction industry. In my latter years as a CEO in the industry, and now in retirement, I have been committed to resolving the industry’s future and was a member of the CEO group who helped craft the early foundations of this voluntary resolution program. I recall many late evenings driving back from ministerial meetings in Pretoria and intensive debate and strategy sessions within SAFCEC. Important stakeholders from black business, who will likely significantly benefit from this agreement, were included.
Simultaneously with this announcement came an uptick in the project outlook for gold, the announcement of two big private sector coal power plants, and momentum on nuclear power.
“Through the transformation commitments in the agreement, we can rebuild the relationship with the companies concerned and work in partnership in future,” says Gugile Nkwinti, the Minister of Rural Development and Land Reform, as well as the Chairperson of the Management Committee of the Presidential Infrastructure Coordinating Commission.
“This arrangement also demonstrates the commitment to a transformed, transparent and ethical industry, which has a major role to play in delivering much needed infrastructure,” says Webster Mfebe, the CEO of SAFCEC.
I was thrilled to learn of the successful conclusion of this agreement. It took seven years, but the benefits might be felt for decades to come.
Cryptocurrency for Africans
George Gordon is on a quest to revolutionize the financial system. The director of Africa Master Blockchain Company talks digital currencies, blind risks and board games.
What is this new African cryptocurrency you are offering?
Where the majority of current digital currencies are based on speculative models, AfriUnion Coin (AUC) and the AfriNational Tokens (ANT)are designed for a transactional purpose allowing international payments, remittances, foreign direct investment as well as day-to-day transactions at local retail stores and other outlets. While the option for speculative trade is available with AUC, the focus is not around that.
Each African country will have a specially-designed ANT which will allow users to pay for goods and services and bills easily through completely digital means without requiring any bank account. AUC and ANT will be fully interchangeable to one another and there will be no fees for the user.
It’s the natural next step for digital finance from mobile banking which most Africans are accustomed to. The ability to freely have the power to send and receive money locally and internationally will allow the freedom of choice and spending power many Africans don’t have currently.
What is your own investment philosophy?
I am a gambler! I believe in taking risks and putting things on the line. That being said, blind risk or whimsical guesses don’t get you very far. Always acquire enough information to understand to a reasonable level what the thing you are planning on investing is or how it works and then trust your instinct and gut feel.
What advice would you give entrepreneurs wanting to invest in blockchain?
First, do some research in terms of what the blockchain technology is being applied for or created in terms of its application to an industry or project. Thereafter, check the white paper for the design of the platform as well as its functionality and applicability to what it is trying to achieve. If it aligns with your personal investment rules, then go for it,however, remember that blockchain is continuously evolving and thus you need to explore outside the usual and standard.
First cash-less, now card-less. What is the future of online banking?
If we are looking into what is currently science fiction, I would say the future is digital contact lenses that will be able to connect you to all your social media accounts, internet, news as well as make payments by just looking at QR codes or specialized barcodes to approve and accept payments.
Now, realistically we are not far off from such innovation and technology, but for the time being, I think the next step is scanning of QR codes at retailers and having the transaction automated from your wallet to the retailers digitally.
What is your most prized investment and why?
My mind. I believe that the work I have put into developing my mind, and continue to do so every day, is the number one investment that I have ever done. It allows me to look at things in a unique perspective as well as provides me with the tools to push boundaries and create new opportunities.
Money, success, fame? Which is most important to you?
I would have to say success… because it is most likely going to bring the other two as well, right? But success in the form of starting something and letting it grow and succeed and knowing that something new exists because of your efforts.
What do you spend your money on mostly?
Board games. I love board games and believe it’s a fantastic way to expand your mind as well as have fun with friends.
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Offering The American Dream
Gar Lippincott and Daniel Ryan of Atlantic American Partners were in South Africa recently looking for high-net-worth individuals wanting to invest in the US.
It’s a warm spring day in September, and Gar Lippincott and Daniel Ryan have just arrived in South Africa. It is Lippincott’s first time in the country, and he is jet-lagged.
A little over two months ago, he was booked to fly here from the United States (US) but was turned back at immigration.
“At Atlanta airport, the lady looked at Daniel’s visa and let him through and she looked at my visa and she said ‘I am afraid you can’t get on the plane because you have to have a blank page on your passport’. I said ‘I have three blank pages’ and she said ‘no, it’s supposed to be the one that says visa on it’. She said it’s the rules in South Africa so I had to sadly go back home… now when I was coming, I was told that’s not an issue anymore so I am happy they have made traveling into the country easier,” says Lippincott.
With a brand-new passport, he’s here with Ryan looking for people who want to invest in the US in exchange for a green card.
Lippincott, the Managing Partner of Atlantic American Partners, says he has always been keen on South Africa for its growth opportunities and prospects.
“From what I understand, the things that are causing short-term decline in the economy in South Africa are set up to provide long-term growth and hopefully people will understand this,” he says. Ryan, the company’s Managing Director of Emerging Markets – Africa, agrees: “I lived in Malawi for 12 years and South Africa is still considered the shining one throughout the continent. Even with all the problems, everyone still wants to come here because of the opportunities.”
According to an AfrAsia Bank report, South Africa comes second to Mauritius in boasting the highest number of high-net-worth individuals.
These are the kind of people Ryan and Lippincott target through their work at Atlantic American Partners. The company has real estate investors and professional private equity fund managers that manage money for banks, insurance companies, and pension funds. In addition, they help people get US green cards and ultimately US citizenship through the US government’s EB-5 Immigrant Investor Visa Program.
“Basically we look for people who want to move to the United States and we help them do so legally by investing and the nice thing is, with our program, they are also able to get a nice return on investment,” he says.
According to Lippincott, for a $500,000 investment that creates 10 jobs for American workers, you could get a green card in about two years and be a US citizen in about six or seven years. “Twenty seven countries have an investor visa program but with most of them, it’s essentially a fee you pay, or you need to be actively engaged in the day-to-day operation of a business. For example, you invest $1.5 million in Australia, but you need to hire employees and generate a certain amount of revenue. One of the biggest advantages with our program is you actually invest the $500,000 into a fund. We act as a trustee of that money and within five to seven years, they get that money back with a bit of return on investment and you are a permanent citizen in the US.”
Atlantic American Partners invests the money in real estate developments like hotels, apartments and student accommodation.
“What’s nice about the program is it doesn’t only cover the investor; it covers the spouse and children under 21. Our biggest family was a Hungarian family with seven children so they got nine green cards for $500,000,” says Lippincott.
The company says it has had positive response in South Africa. “Two months ago, we were here and we had scheduled six presentations for 100 people and we ended up speaking to 450 people. Most were business people, people worried about the economy, people worried about the political future of South Africa and people concerned about the education future of their children,” says Ryan.
According to Lippincott, despite the news of the clampdown on immigration, the US economy is booming and will perish without immigration. In the era of Donald Trump and his anti-immigrant views, that’s heartening news indeed.
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