South Africa's centralised buying plans come under fire

5 October 2010

5 October 2010 | Nick Martindale

Procurement experts have criticised a pledge by South Africa’s president to consider centralising government procurement of large-ticket goods and services in a drive to stamp out corruption.

In a speech to delegates of the African National Congress in Durban last month, Jacob Zuma said the government could explore the centralisation of major contracts and procurement of major items, to improve transparency and protect whistleblowers.

However, analysts were sceptical of the idea as a means of stamping out corruption, and warned such a system would be difficult to operate in practice.

Elaine Porteous, an independent procurement consultant, said a similar system, whereby government contracts went through a state tender board, was abandoned in 1994.

“Most industry observers believe that a return to this model will simply slow procurement down,” she said. “With such a small and centralised pool of decision-makers, it might be even easier for corrupt bidders to manipulate the process.”

Professor Geo Quinot, from the Department of Public Law at Stellenbosch University, said that any shift towards centralisation would move away from the government’s policy of placing public financial responsibility with particular entities.

He said: “From a constitutional perspective, it will be difficult to completely centralise public procurement again, since the three levels of government in South Africa exist as separate, distinct entities under the constitution and also in terms of fiscal arrangements.”

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