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11 Jul 2016 00:00
"We want eletrict & houses plz Miss DeLil - help us" - Poster at a service delivery protest by around 500 people in the Sweet Home Farm section of Phillipi near Cape Town in 2012. (David Harrison)
the government’s procurement system is the best defence against corruption” —
so said the state’s chief procurement officer, Kenneth Brown, at a seminar in
Cape Town organised by the Institute for Security Studies and Goedgedacht Forum,
held on June 28.
if South Africa continues with this mindset, in 2022, when we look back at the
role and influence of the office of the chief procurement officer in government
procurement, we will see that the decision to establish the office came out of
desperation rather than a clear and decisive programme to address service
delivery. Defence against corruption is secondary.
the establishment of the office in February 2013, a good deal more than R150-billion
has been wasted through irregular, fruitless and wasteful expenditure, across
all three spheres of government.
And the figure is expected to increase when
the auditor general’s report for the 2015/16 financial year appears.
briefly at the complex history of the post-1994 amalgamation of thousands of
administration centres, including those of the Bantustans, it’s clear that the
process “de-bureaucratised” the public sector and local government. As a
result, a feature of the post-apartheid state is contracting government
services out to third party providers.
said that “government spends about R500-billion a year on goods and services,
ranging from the supply of pens and paperclips to mega-billion infrastructure
projects”. This is well over 40% of the total R1.3-trillion annual budget of
the 2016/17 financial year. The rest is spent on the wage bill for essential
services — health, police, teachers, and officials who can best be described as
administrators who oversee and manage relations between the government and
third party service providers. Hence government does not have the capacity to
do anything but file and report, whereas third party service providers do
everything: designing plans, selecting other third party service providers,
implementing those plans, monitoring and evaluating the implementation of the
same plans, and preparing reports, in particular financial statements,
especially in local government.
as capacity continues to diminish in public sector and government dependency on
third party service providers deepens, tens of thousands of discrete
procurement sites flourished. In some instances, government officials, from
junior assistants to senior managers within the same department but in
different units, are responsible for procurement sites, yet lack the skills to
manage a contract when engaging with third party service providers. Even the
smallest procurement — such as buying sugar for staff — can only
happen in government with a tender.
we were modernising our procurement system in a situation where the root cause
of the problem is mainly administrative, Brown’s approach may have merits. If
the problem were those of processes and procedures, design and flows,
stakeholder management and dispute resolutions, then Brown’s plan would stand a
chance. But the challenges before government as far as procurement is concerned
are not merely administrative in nature, and those who believe administrative
modernisation will resolve these challenges are wasting time, as well as
precious and limited resources, on a wild goose chase.
is about time that the government looked at its core functions and built strong
internal capacity to fulfil those functions, as part of an overhaul of
macroeconomic policy and state restructuring to achieve people-centred
government. The government has functions that are recurring, predictable and
essential for sustainable service delivery. For example, maintenance of water
infrastructure to ensure that taps are not leaking is one such function that
requires internal capacity. Building internal capacity to reduce dependency on
third party service providers will not primarily target corruption: instead, it
will target the improvement of service delivery.
may ask: Where will the government get all the skills to build internal
capacity? The fact of the matter is that the majority of qualified and skilled
people, in particular artisans employed by the majority of third party service
providers, are paid slave wages, work in inhumane environments without
necessary benefits such as medical aids and a pension, and only the owner of
the business gets to enjoy the accumulation of wealth.
of what form system modernisation takes, a defence against corruption in procurement
is unlikely to come from there. If the lack of action by municipal councils to
deal with transgressions in supply chain management processes, as reported by
the auditor general, is any sign, it might be some time before we see any decisive
steps towards dealing with corruption. The Brown plan simply puts a band-aid on
an open wound.
Gumani Tshimomola is a senior
researcher for the Economic Freedom Fighters’ parliamentary caucus
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