Johannesburg - A constant theme in yesterday’s Budget speech by Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan and throughout the Treasury’s Budget Review was the need to ensure government spending is efficient and corruption will not be tolerated.

“This is a Budget in which circumstances dictate that we cannot add resources to the overall spending envelope. The emphasis falls therefore on ensuring that expenditure is allocated efficiently, enhancing management, cutting waste and eliminating corruption.”

The minister stressed that the need for efficient spending meant not merely that there was no waste but that there was productive spending. “Spending reviews are under way to examine programme performance and value for money,” he cautioned.

The reviews would be undertaken by the Treasury, the Ministry of Performance Monitoring and Evaluation and by provincial treasuries.

These aim to provide greater understanding of “performance and value for money in areas such as housing, education and industrial policy”, the Budget Review notes.

Reviews already conducted in provincial government have pointed to a range of efficiency improvements that would enhance value for money.

The chief procurement officer is building a national system to oversee the purchase of high-value goods and services commonly used across the government. The reforms are expected to simplify procurement procedures and strengthen accountability. In addition they will improve the government’s ability to detect corruption and maladministration.

The office of the accountant-general is assisting in this efficiency drive by stepping up efforts to strengthen the control environment for the government’s financial systems.

“Over the last 12 months it conducted 68 investigations into fraud, corruption and maladministration, resulting in 47 criminal investigations and 65 disciplinary hearings,” the Budget Review notes.

Payments worth R503 million have been cancelled and R61m has been surrendered back to the fiscus.

One political analyst remarked that, in terms of a R1 trillion-plus Budget, the sums were not significant but that the initiative promoted the concept of accountability and a lack of tolerance for corruption.

Regulations due to be introduced will strengthen the Treasury’s oversight of public entities by requiring compliance with reporting requirements relating to expenditure, revenue, borrowing and performance.

As part of the effort to combat waste, cost-containment instructions were issued last month. Budgets for consultants, travel, accommodation and venue hire have been curtailed.

At a press conference yesterday Gordhan stressed that he had experienced “blow back” from government employees subjected to the cost-containment instructions.

“This was not my decision, it was a cabinet decision,” he said, explaining that the many providers of accommodation adjacent to government operations had responded by offering rates within the new strictures.

The Budget Review reveals that in real terms expenditure on items targeted for “cost-containment” is expected to be cut by between 3 percent and 6 percent between now and 20015/16. - Business Report