tenders graft hurting state service delivery

THE recent exposé in the Sunday Times on how public servants are raiding the public kitty is a matter of serious concern.

THE recent exposé in the Sunday Times on how public servants are raiding the public kitty is a matter of serious concern.

The newspaper has reported that an investigation by the auditor-general has revealed how more than 2000 government officials were involved in tender rigging and corruption involving more than R610million.

Some of the acts of malfeasance the officials are accused of include granting tenders to firms either owned by themselves or their spouses, relatives and colleagues.

Of more concern was the remark by the Public Service Accountability Monitor (PSAM) - an independent organisation that monitors the misuse of public funds - that what the Sunday Times has revealed was "the tip of the iceberg".

Even more disheartening is the revelation by the report that there was "inconsistencies" in the manner in which government dealt with crooked public servants.

According to the report, there were instances where disciplinary action has been taken, leading to dismissals.

But there were instances where no action was taken because the perpetrators were, for example, not aware of the code of conduct that requires them to obtain approval from their seniors if they were wanted to moonlight.

This explanation raises the question of ethical behaviour by public servants - i.e. whether they don't see anything wrong in using their position to unfairly acquire lucrative state tenders.

On the other hand, it also raises questions about the issue of responsibility carried by those the officials report to.

A basic tenet of responsibility is that those who have it should fix whatever problem they identify under their scope of operation.


Responsibility also calls for the office-holder to accept personal consequences, where the mishap is attributable to the office-holder's own action or inaction.

The buck should stop with the political ministers who are the heads of the departments where these acts have occurred, because public servants are mere instruments through which the ministers give effect to state policies .

It is therefore the responsibility of the ministers to ensure that the civil servants adhere to values that enable them to support the state's agenda, which is to run an honest and effective government that delivers on the needs of the electorate.

Corruption in government tenders is a major challenge because the state is heavily dependent on the private sector to effect service delivery.

This is a multibillion-rand industry which some individuals have identified as the government's underbelly when it comes to self-enrichment.

There is a pervasive culture whereby certain civil servants use their positions to obtain self-enrichment at the expense of good governance.


The example of thousands of unfinished RDP houses in Limpopo, where the building contractor had been paid but failed to deliver, is a case in point.

In this instance, the government had to employ another contractor - at the taxpayer's extra cost - to complete the project.

As PSAM head Jay Kruuse argues, the solution to this is to ensure that public servants who unlawfully enrich themselves through the public coffers are severely punished.

It is now up to the politicians to ensure that there is capacity in the various departments to ensure that those who fall foul of the regulations do bear the consequences, criminal or not.

Unless drastic measures are taken, the situation will get worse, simply because people believe they can get away with it.

In the process this will undermine the government's commitment to delivering on its promises - to improve the quality of life for all through a clean, accountable government.