CONSULTING Engineers SA (Cesa) on Wednesday took a strong stance on corruption in the construction industry, saying it took two to tango.

But, more important than words, the body, which represents nearly 500 South African engineering firms employing 22,000 people, said it would now take legal action against parties that behaved "unethically".

This meant taking action against industry players, including its own members, as much as exposing state incompetence.

"The problem of corruption is getting significantly worse … and government is not doing anything about this," Cesa president Naren Bhojaram said on Wednesday.

But by "breaking the silence", Cesa wanted to ensure decisions were made about infrastructure development in South Africa that would be "relevant for 100 years".

This comes as the government readies itself to embark on a R4-trillion infrastructure drive over the next 15 years.

South Africa had slipped from 64th place to 69 out of 176 countries in the Transparency International corruption index last year. This had come after recent credit ratings downgrades.

It also comes as the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation — the Hawks — confirmed it was investigating "several tenders" in the construction industry. The Competition Commission has said the Hawks investigation is completely separate from its own probe into the industry.

Mr Bhojaram said his organisation had for some time been exhorting its members to "blow the whistle" on irregular procedures in the industry, but "that has not been happening".

It cost "big money" to take legal action, but the "soft-shoe" approach Cesa had adopted in the past had not worked, he said.

Cesa had now taken the process a step further by "ring-fencing" a R1m "war chest" from its R10m in annual membership fees, the body’s deputy president, Abe Thela, said.

The organisation also said it was approaching the public protector over the case of a municipality where the sixth or seventh lowest-cost bidder was awarded a tender.

Mr Bhojaram said that some authorities had "specifically" stated they did not want inputs on infrastructure from a professional services adviser, including Cesa members. "And that smells of corruption," he said.

This meant infrastructure development in South Africa had been compromised by systemic corruption, lack of expertise, and the subsequent cutting of corners.

Meanwhile, the newly inaugurated president of the South African Institution of Civil Engineering, Peter Kleynhans, on Tuesday spoke about what was needed to arrest environmental change in respect of globalisation and increased consumption.

"We need to actively promote ... appropriate initiatives to attain a continuous reduction in the (world’s) population growth rate ... in the interest of both current and future generations," he said.

"A case can be made, therefore, that the demand for immovable (infrastructure) assets should be reduced. The consequence of such an approach is that, at the outset of any civil engineering project, the question should be asked as to whether or not the immovable asset is really necessary."