The government is now using drones to prevent corruption on construction sites in Johannesburg

Hovering and watching.
Hovering and watching.
Image: Reuters/Hannibal Hanschke
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South African construction workers thinking about overstating supplies or flouting safety regulations may now notice a drone hovering above them. Gauteng province’s department of infrastructure development has launched a fleet of drones that will be used monitor building projects including those in and around Johannesburg.

The first drone took off Monday (May 21) and will monitor the provincial government’s ambitious list of 340 projects scheduled to be completed in the next three years. Gauteng is spending 4.5 billion rand (nearly $360 million) on the developments so it makes sense they would want some help in keeping an eye on it.

“It is possible for the public sector to be efficient and to be productive in what we do,” provincial department head Jacob Mamabolo said in a statement.

The drones’ site visits are meant to monitor the quality of work as well and ensure that the projects stick to their schedules, the department said in a statement (pdf). The drones are just the latest effort by Mamobolo to make his department more tech-savvy and “to leap frog” with opportunities from the  “fourth industrial revolution.”

This, however, is about more than a government official’s embrace of technology. One of the South Africa’s largest corruption scandals involved the construction of the 2010 World Cup venues. And while that backroom collusion may have been too sophisticated for a drone to spot, much corruption in the infrastructure sector takes place on construction sites.

Across the continent, corruption can add a 40% “inefficiency premium” to the cost of infrastructure projects, according to Chris Heathcote, the CEO of The Global Infrastructure HubPublic construction projects are meant to stimulate a nation’s production and wealth, but in Africa they often end up being a drag on economies that are already lagging behind.