'Abuse of procurement at root of rot'
Willie Mathebula, the National Treasury’s acting chief procurement officer, told the commission of inquiry into state capture yesterday that the Public Procurement Bill was waiting for Cabinet approval. A review was already under way of Treasury regulations.
The bill and the review of Treasury regulations would soon be published for public comment, he said.
Mathebula said the proposed new bill would also create the Office of the Procurement Ombudsman.
“It’s quite urgent that we finalise the process,” he said. It would lead to the professionalisation of state procurement.
The bill was at an advanced stage and would repeal or amend existing statutes, caused by the government’s recognition of abuses in its procurement processes.
Delegations of authority were also being reviewed, procurement planning strengthened and a new alternative dispute resolution mechanisms being set up.
This was because the government realised it was spending too much money on litigation over contract disputes.
The Office of the Chief Procurement Officer would also be given more powers to conduct proper oversight and take action in case of abuses of processes.
Contract management needed to be strengthened as contract variations were a very serious issue.
“They create the so-called evergreen contracts and act as barriers to small businesses and black-owned companies,” he said.
At the height of state capture, several organisations and public figures sympathetic to the Gupta family raised the alarm over Eskom coal supply contracts that lasted up to four decades, he said.
Mathebula said contract management was on the National Treasury’s radar that needed to be tightened up.
The National Treasury veteran, who was the first witness to testify, proposed a special tribunal to deal with criminal cases of abuse of procurement processes.
“If we don’t do so the rot will continue. We must ensure that where we identify wrongdoing it is dealt with.”
Mathebula also suggested that the process of adjudicating tenders be presided over by a retired judge.
Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, who is chairing the commission sitting in Johannesburg, said the country needed to look at what made the procurement process vulnerable to corruption. ”My view is that a lot of corruption is committed through tenders,” Judge Zondo said.
The commission had a duty to look at all ways that procurement processes can be protected from corruption. “We must do whatever we can to reduce the possibility of corruption,” said Judge Zondo.