Bring virus spending in the open


2 August 2020

Aputrid stench of corruption around COVID-19 procurement forces us to consider more seriously what we have done to enable such criminality.

We nonchalantly talk at dinner tables about how corrupt our body politic and government procurement have become. Yet we do nothing but tweet about it. In so doing, we become complicit in the degenerate conduct of criminals in charge of the public purse.

We believe in the injunction by Finance Minister Tito Mboweni that all procurement decisions involving COVID-19 by provinces must be made public. Indeed, it’s time to move away from the dark rooms of cloak and daggers. Don’t waste a crisis, many strategists, especially those in public relations, often say. It was with that in mind that this newspaper courageously reported about how a few white firms were, to the exclusion of black firms, feeding off the trough of initial COVID-19 procurement.

Sunday World single-handedly forced the National Treasury to reverse its initial decision to allow a disregard for black economic empowerment in the procurement of the first tranche of personal protective equipment (PPE).

In fact, this procurement was done outside of government departments in what was described as a desperate bid to procure unencumbered by regulations. Speed, they said, was of the essence. We argued that the exclusion of black business was not only unconstitutional, but sent the wrong message to society that only white firms were capable of procuring PPE internationally.

Following the outcry, National Treasury saw the folly of its decision and duly reversed it.

What followed was another feeding frenzy involving families of senior and connected individuals, black and white.

It is quite clear that while many of us worry about how to contain the virus, how to encourage people to wear masks and sanitise, a select group is focused on making sure they come out of this pandemic so rich they will never need to work again. Emergency procurement regulations are subverted to enrich rather than to serve.

Overpricing has certainly disadvantaged many of the country’s poor. Our country has had to go to the International Monetary Fund to source a loan of over R70-billion to fight off
COVID-19. Without overpricing, would we still have needed the loan? That aside, is a large part of this R70-billion to be spent on overpriced equipment?

As a country, we need the full list of all companies that were allotted work in all provinces. The mere allocation of a tender to a company neither suggests nor proves wrongdoing.

Making the list public is necessary to ensure greater transparency and accountability. In any case, the cronyism and networks of corruption work best in secrecy. Transparent processes and public lists will make it easier for all of us to see through the networks of patronage.

Our only hope to stop this scourge is when those awarding and those who
receive tenders know that their processes will be publicly reviewed and followed by corrective sanction, where necessary.




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