Consultancy is a vague, cover-all term, one that can be used to fend off curiosity – much like “import-export”, which has over the years disguised all kinds of activities.
But there is good money in it, according to a study by the auditor-general, who found that the government had shelled out R102 billion to consultants over three years.
From this we understand that large amounts of taxpayers’ money is being spent to source expertise that the government does not have. This prompts the question of why the state lacks the necessary expertise and has to buy it.
Such extensive use of buy-in skill creates the impression of taxpayers having to pay twice for the service that is their due: for a government that should have this expertise on its payroll, and for outsiders when it often does not. In which case, what are government officials being paid for?
Another question, one raised by the DA, is the identities of the consultants who have thrived so. Is the consultancy industry – for that is now what it is – just another form of cronyism or tenderpreneurism?
Almost lost in the astonishing figure of R206 million spent on upgrades at the Zuma homestead in Nkandla was R48m on consultants; R20m of this, we were told, was for security needs. Surely, in the police, army, air force or assorted security agencies, such expertise is available?
It would be fascinating to know exactly what special knowledge these particular consultants brought to the Nkandla project.
Chances are the government will take refuge behind “security reasons”, another obfuscatory favourite, to avoid this question. But perhaps investigators of the auditor-general and public protector’s offices can look into this in their Nkandla probes.
While they are doing so, they should identify the 15 service providers in the Nkandla estate upgrade, consultants included. “Security reasons” cannot be proffered to shut down this line of enquiry.