Report from Cape Town

Triennial Congress of the International Federation of Municipal Engineers

Chris Champion
National CEO
Institute of Public Works Engineering Australia

The APWA International Affairs Committee presents this series of articles to assist in the exchange of ideas between our international partners. This article is presented as part of the partnering agreement in place between APWA and its Australian counterpart, the Institute of Public Works Engineering Australia (IPWEA).

The world is getting smaller.

The advent of e-mail and the internet is improving communications internationally. International travel is more accessible to many. And to us in municipal engineering and public works, the many issues we face in our day-to-day jobs are not that dissimilar across the globe.

My opportunity to attend the Triennial Congress of the International Federation of Municipal Engineers (IFME) in Cape Town in November last year reinforced just how common the many challenges are that we all face. It was also very comforting to be able to quickly make so many new friends from across the world. It always seems that this is the case with our "brother and sister" public works colleagues no matter which country they come from. We obviously have many common interests!

The IFME Congress: Seventeen countries in a spectacular setting
The IFME Triennial Congress was held in Cape Town, South Africa with the ever-present Table Mountain rising behind the city as a more than spectacular backdrop. The Congress was held in conjunction with the annual conference of the Institution of Municipal Engineering of Southern Africa (IMESA). There were approximately 500 delegates plus partners, and some 70 international delegates from 17 different countries.

Countries represented at the Congress beyond South Africa included Australia, Austria, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Israel, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Namibia, Norway, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.

Many papers both local and overseas were presented as well as technical tours. The theme of the Congress was "Challenges Where First and Third Worlds Meet." The theme was designed to promote discussion on the needs of South Africa and other developing countries, from both a developed and developing world perspective—a relevant and essential topic given the turbulent times of today.

Many of the local papers had a distinct emphasis on the basic services many of us take for granted: water supply schemes, sanitation services, wastewater treatment systems, and building communities through infrastructure provision. The title of one paper particularly summed up the important role our profession plays in a developing community: "The Municipal Engineer: At the center of the aspirations of a developing country and first-world technology."

  View of Cape Town from Table Mountain

Social highlights of the Congress included a sunset South African dinner on the shores of the Atlantic for international delegates. We were welcomed by the drumbeat and music of a local South African band. We visited the beautiful coastal town of Hermanus where whales can be seen only a few hundred meters from the shore, traveled to the top of Table Mountain in the cableway for spectacular views, and attended the final evening Gala Dinner at the famous Newlands Rugby Stadium.

We saw the contrasts of a modern harbourside city with its new International Convention Center, and the "informal township" settlements of the poor and unemployed that border the city. There was evidence, however, of much progress being made. This included extension of basic services and facilities being provided by local government with a key role played by members of our own profession. The visit has certainly aroused my interest in the history of the country and the struggle of its people, and how it is patiently moving towards " country, one nation, one people, marching together into the future..." (Nelson Mandela, 1994)

Common challenges
I was fortunate to be invited to the Congress as a Plenary Speaker to talk on the topic of "Municipal Engineering Associations." I used the IPWEA as a case study. In the paper I talked of the many common challenges facing our industry. This and the final session which was a panel discussion on the Future of Municipal Engineering, and Engineering Associations, demonstrated a clear overlap of issues, namely:

  • Ability to effectively communicate and market ourselves
  • De-engineering of the public sector
  • Difficulty in attracting young people to the profession and recruiting experienced staff
  • Management and resourcing of infrastructure maintenance and future development
  • Sustainability of natural resources
  • The need to focus on society's needs (not our past assumptions or practices).

It was interesting to hear how these issues aligned so closely with other countries around the globe. As a profession, there appears to be some loss of identity of the local government, municipal or public works engineer. However, I detect that this may have bottomed out as there is more recognition of the key role our profession plays in the community. This is particularly evident in rural communities and in developing countries.

An international federation
There have been a couple of attempts to establish international federations in public works over the years. The International Federation of Municipal Engineers (IFME) was founded in 1960 and continues today. It is open to professional municipal engineers through their own national municipal engineering associations or also as individuals.

IFME currently represents approximately 10 countries with a total membership of some 20,000 members. The main representation is from Europe but includes a number of other countries including the United Kingdom, South Africa, the Netherlands, Italy, Belgium, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Israel. There was strong representation at the Congress from Norway and the Netherlands. The next IFME Triennial Congress will be held in Rome in 2006.

IFME experiences the same problems as many voluntary professional member organizations: lack of resources. For an international organization this is significantly compounded by distance, but e-mail, the internet and teleconferencing open up new opportunities.

  The waterfront with the ever-present Table Mountain

I believe there is a strong case for supporting forums and initiatives that foster international exchange of ideas and information. This is even more important in today's world climate. The more we communicate and exchange with other countries, the more we all understand and relate to each other.

Just as APWA and IPWEA provide valuable networking opportunities for their own members, there is also a need to increase opportunities for international networking (and understanding). As with our own professional associations, and membership, it is also not just what you can benefit from membership—but also what you can contribute.

The IFME Congress has again highlighted to me the value of fostering international exchange, networking and understanding. The International Affairs Committee of APWA has similar goals and interests. There may be some mutual objectives which can be further explored.

For more information contact Chris Champion, IPWEA National CEO, at

2004 Jennings Randolph Fellowship recipients named
The American Public Works Association is pleased to announce the recipients of the 2004 Jennings Randolph Fellowship. The following APWA members were selected through a formal application process to present public works/infrastructure-related papers at APWA's international partnership countries' public works-related conferences, coupled with a one-week study tour of public facilities and issues in that country. All three recipients will prepare articles for the APWA Reporter reflecting their experiences and will make a presentation at the 2005 APWA Congress and Exposition on their findings.

The 2004 Jennings Randolph Fellowship recipients are:

  • George R. Crombie, Public Works Director, City of Plymouth, Massachusetts. Crombie will visit Slovakia and The Czech Republic and attend the conferences of the Slovak Public Works Association on March 31 and April 1, 2004 in Michalovce and The Czech Republic Public Works Association on April 8, 2004 in Trebon.

    J. Bradley Kutzner, Assistant City Engineer, City of Poway, California. Kutzner will visit Slovakia and The Czech Republic and attend the conferences of the Slovak Public Works Association on March 31 and April 1, 2004 in Michalovce and The Czech Republic Public Works Association on April 8, 2004 in Trebon.

    Jose Gamboa, Superintendent of Solid Wastes, Public Works Refuse Collection, City of Santa Cruz, California. Gamboa will visit Mexico and attend the conference of the Asociacion de Municipios de Mexico, A.C. (AMMAC) on May 19-21, 2004 in Huatulco, Oaxaca, Mexico.

The APWA International Affairs Committee looks forward to receiving applications for the 2005 international conferences in Australia and Mexico. To learn more about this program, please visit the APWA website at under "About APWA - International Activities" or contact Kaye Sullivan, APWA Deputy Executive Director at or (800) 848-APWA, extension 3523.


What is your cultural intelligence?

  1. In Japan, it is appropriate to use a handkerchief as discretely as possible during your meetings. True or False

  2. In Chile, slapping your right fist into your left palm is obscene, and an open palm with the fingers separated means "stupid." True or False

  3. In Germany, never keep your left hand in your pocket while shaking hands. True or False

  4. If you're a female executive traveling to Brazil, you should be certain your nails are well-manicured. True or False

  5. Dinner reservations in Spain are generally for 8:00 p.m. True or False

Answers: 1. False, do not use a handkerchief, use disposable tissues. 2. True. 3. True 4. True 5. False, they are generally made for 10:00 p.m.

Copyright 2004 Terri Morrison., (610) 725-1040

Cultural Proverbs

"The one chased away with a club comes back, but the one chased away with reason does not." - Kikuyu (Kenya) Proverb

"The villager who always complains and is never satisfied with anything is like an annoying flea on the foot." - Nilotic Proverb