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The Public Service Commission (PSC) has heard how service providers and suppliers for government departments often have to pay bribes just to speed up the process of being paid by government.
It has also heard from service providers who knew of companies that were always being awarded contracts and were usually paid within two weeks while others had to wait even up to two years before getting paid.
The PSC was also told of officials who instructed staff not to pay certain suppliers to settle scores or show them they had the power to inconvenience them.
This was revealed during the PSC’s public hearing into government departments’ failure to pay suppliers within the stipulated 30 days from delivering services.
According to the PSC, this tendency is threatening the existence of small businesses, many of whom are facing closure due to late payments.
PSC commissioner Phumelele Nzimande said yesterday she was shocked at some of the stories from service providers, which detailed how things that could be sorted out by a simple phone call dragged on for more than two years in some cases.
Nzimande said they had the powers to issue subpoenas against departments that failed to pay suppliers within the 30-day period as agreed in their contracts, but preferred to do this as a last resort.
The PSC held a public hearing yesterday where service providers were presented with an opportunity to tell stories of how late payments were affecting their businesses, particularly small business that could be forced to close down if money they spent delivering services to government was not recovered.
“Some of the explanations by government departments about why they did not pay suppliers on time were not convincing.
“These include the fact that service providers have changed their banking details. With the amount of technology that is available to us today, it should not take forever just to verify the correct banking details of a service provider.
“It is really bad because most of the small businesses can shut down while waiting for a department to pay up,” said Nzimande.
She said it was actually embarrassing that the PSC had to hold public hearings about this issue as there should not be many problems with paying suppliers if proper systems are in place and public servants do their work as they are supposed to.
She also bemoaned the lack of standard responses to queries regarding late or non-payments and the victimisation that suppliers were facing when they complained about this.
“A lot of suppliers and service providers were actually reluctant to come to the hearing because they would be victimised and not given business for being outspoken about the problems they faced in doing business with the government,” said Nzimande.
Businessman Richard Ledwaba, who has done many jobs for government department, told how he had struggled since 2010 to get paid for work he delivered in that year.
“I have been sent from pillar to post by the government entity concerned and it has now been two years. I have not even paid the people I employed since then because there is no money.
“These people include 15 family men who have families to take care of. In many cases, consultants who are employed by the government to approve our work demand brown envelopes under the table to help speed up our payments.
“Their question is simply: if we help you get paid quickly, what is in it for us?” said Ledwaba.
Pretoria News Weekend