Mon. Dec 4th, 2023

Non-governmental organisations warned parliament’s standing committee on finance that the Public Procurement Bill in its current form did not have adequate measures to prevent the scale of tender corruption seen during the years of state capture.

Anticorruption organisations, civil society groups, and an investigative journalism agency were among those which made submissions to the committee’s public hearings on the bill on Wednesday.

The bill proposes reforms in the tender system including a public procurement unit housed in the National Treasury and a tribunal to review decisions taken by a procuring institution and the public procurement office to debar a bidder or supplier.

Corruption Watch head of legal and investigations Nicki Van ‘t Riet said the Constitutional Court determined that after state capture took hold, procurement palpably implicates people’s democratic rights and, as such, should be done in a transparent, efficient, and cost-effective manner.

“The bill must have the economic transformation of SA as its driving purpose. It must achieve open and transparent procurement where corruption is prevented. While promoting [broad-based black economic empowerment] BBBEE it must prevent fronting and promote fairness and access to information to the public. Unfortunately, in its current state, the bill does not meet these objectives,” said Van ‘t Riet.

Van ‘t Riet said Corruption Watch supported finance minister Enoch Godongwana’s plans to present legislation to address fragmented public procurement and the automatic exclusion of public office bearers and politicians in the bidding process.

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“A technology-based procurement system is a good way to modernise the supply chain system, but the bill must be revised to codify the details of the e-procurement system and this should not be left to interpretation,” she said.

She said while the inclusion of a public procurement tribunal in the bill was welcome, this tribunal needs a minimum of 10 members with separate oversight and decision-making where all tribunal members can perform their functions independently and free of implicit pressure.

Advocacy coordinator for amaBhungane Caroline James said fundamental weaknesses in South Africa’s procurement system have been a major setback to service delivery and have failed to transform the economy as corruption and abusive practices remain hidden.

“We would recommend that there are international examples for details that should be laid out in legislation rather than leaving it to instructions. We need to see more capacitation from parliament to give capacity to the procurement office,” said James.

James said the bill risks creating a multifaceted system where officials may not know what the law requires of them. The bill must set guidelines for preferential commitment for transformation as this is too important to leave to interpretation, she said.

“In respect to the risks of corruption we are worried that the monetary systems in the bill are insufficient and will not have the capacity or independence to be a true monitoring body as officials are at risk of being hired and fired by the minister,” she said.

Institute of Race Relations head of campaigns Gabriel Crouse said the bill in its current form takes money from poor black people and gives it to rich people of other races while big business continues to enjoy business from the state.

“If this bill is passed in its current form, it is going to be challenged in court. It is going to be held against the constitution and it is going to be found sorely wanting,” said Crouse.

According to the current iteration of the bill the public procurement tribunal will consist of members appointed by the minister of finance. The members of the tribunal must include a retired judge who will serve as chair, enough members with 10 years of experience in law, and enough members with 10 years of experience in procurement.

By Joy

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