Cape Town - Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan has hinted at a plan to centralise all government tenders as a means to root out corruption and resolve the "level of muted impunity" and "catch me if you can" attitude that "pervades" the public administration.
Addressing parliament's finance committee and responding to concerns that government's procurement crackdown was not having much effect, Gordhan conceded: "Colleagues [MPs] are correct. We have not cracked the cancer."
Although government had "come a long way" in the last six to nine months in understanding systemic problems with the procurement system, Gordhan said that the structure, which allows each national and provincial department and municipality to award and run its own tenders, had not yet been revisited.
Gordhan argued that transversal procurement (centrally overseen tenders) offered more scope to ensure value for money and would also limit corruption opportunities.
Illustrating the merits of centralising procurement, Gordhan referred to Minister of Health Aaron Motsoaledi's calculations with regard to purchasing anti-retrovirals.
Aside from limiting corruption opportunities, if these were purchased centrally for the whole country the health department believes it could save 30%.
"We are losing billions at the moment because many of these projects are individualised and run by many departments. We do not have the capacity to ensure that there is value for what is being delivered [in these contracts]," said Gordhan.
Meanwhile, Gordhan said that the inter-ministerial committee looking into government procurement is expected to release a detailed report soon.
Gordhan added that treasury did raise the issue of procurement and related financial management issues regularly and "frankly" at various councils. These include the premiers' coordinating council, the budget council of provincial ministers of finance and forums where provincial finance ministers meet with national ministers.
Gordhan's director general Lesetja Kganyago also explained that government's specialised auditing capacity was being beefed up so that corruption could be prevented and tracked.
The accountant general, Terence Nombembe, stressed that it was not just about new legislation, new forums and beefed-up auditing services.
As long as accounting officers, their political bosses and various legislatures failed to take the necessary action and/or provide adequate oversight, he said that the fight against corruption would not improve.
Nombembe's comments echoed the frustration expressed by MPs across the political spectrum who sit on parliament's Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa).
Without exception, departments which appear before Scopa battle to justify why officials caught stealing or fingered for financial mismanagement often resign before they are disciplined or charged, and then take up another position somewhere else in government.