03 July 2008
Poor performing municipalities in South Africa should give up purchasing responsibilities to larger government departments, says a Harvard University academic.
In a research paper published last month Steven Kelman, Weatherhead professor of public management at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, said municipalities rated "poor" in capacity by the Treasury should no longer be able to contract service suppliers. Instead they would have to use a national organisation, such as the National Road Agency for roads or Department of Public Works for housing, to carry out purchasing and contract management.
The suggestions follow discussions with government staff, during which one senior official suggested "about half of the municipalities probably can't do procurement".
Kelman believes the plan would give municipalities an incentive to improve their purchasing skills so they could regain control of their own processes. But he told SM: "My guess is that the municipalities with poor capacity will not react favourably. My hunch is that there are corruption issues in some of these. This would probably need to be something that the national government made the decision to undertake."
He said senior officials at national agencies were sympathetic towards the proposals. The National Road Agency already provides construction work for provinces and said it would be willing to handle procurement for municipal projects, providing it was paid and there was no political interference.