The African Procurement Law Unit (APLU), which is housed at the Stellenbosch University (SU) Law Faculty, initiated a national conversation on public procurement reform in South Africa during a two-day gathering in Johannesburg from 27 to 28 February 2023.
The initiative is a response to the call of the Zondo Commission of Inquiry into State Capture which noted that “any serious attempt to address the problems which beset public procurement must go well beyond state capture … the process of reform requires a coherent and comprehensive plan of action which needs to bring the public and private sectors together in a joint initiative to restore proper standards and discipline within the procurement system."
The event drew over 120 delegates from the South African public procurement/supply chain management community to discuss all aspects of public procurement with the aim of framing a vision for the future of public procurement in South Africa. Delegates came from all levels of government, including key national departments such as Treasury; Justice and Constitutional Development; Public Works and Infrastructure; Trade, Industry and Competition and Defence as well as from public bodies such as the NRF; Public Service Commission; SARS; Competition Commission and SANRAL. Suppliers to the government as well as supplier organisations such as Consulting Engineers South Africa and the Steel and Engineering Industries Federation of Southern Africa were present. Participating NGOs included Corruption Watch; the Legal Resources Centre; Amabhungane; Open Ownership, OUTA and the Public Service Accountability Monitor as well as some of South Africa's leading procurement academics and lawyers.
The topics discussed ranged from the forthcoming public procurement legislation for South Africa, how best to deal with the restriction of poor performing and corrupt suppliers to government, the liability of public officials for procurement failures, the need for the state to buy local goods in order to support local industrial development, how to accelerate transformation via public procurement practices, increased use of technology to improve efficiencies in procurement and to reduce abuse and how best to deal with challenges to tender awards.
Prof Geo Quinot, APLU director and professor of law at SU, noted in his opening remarks that “public procurement is the backbone of service delivery in our country, of making real the aspirations of our constitution, of driving economic development. By coming together, all of us can strengthen that backbone to the benefit of everyone who live in our country."
The issues raised during the plenary engagements were categorised under five themes and discussed in more detail by smaller working groups. The themes are institutional arrangements; procurement integrity; targeted procurement; procedures & efficiency; and dispute resolution. The South African public procurement community intends to contribute to the ongoing reforms of the public procurement system and following the two-day workshop, the national conversation continues by way of workstreams where delegates will continue to explore the themes raised in the working groups. For each theme, an issue paper will be collaboratively developed to set out inter alia the nature of the issue, its role in the procurement system, possible ways in which it could be regulated, suggested operating procedures and standard documents, and the skills required to manage the issue. The issue papers will include case studies, from South Africa and beyond, on how the issue has been successfully addressed. These issue papers will be discussed at further gatherings, including another national workshop in June. The outcomes can feed into the public consultation processes that will accompany new procurement legislation, and the crafting of regulations and other implementation instruments under a new procurement statute, once passed. Generally, the initiative aims to assist all stakeholders in improving procurement practice – from the regulators tasked with designing and overseeing the procurement system; to the leadership of organs of state in using procurement as a strategic tool; to procurement officials in their daily acquisition functions; to businesses wanting to supply goods and services to the state.
The South African procurement community believes that by bringing together the experiences of officials awarding tenders, of enterprises selling to the state, of regulators monitoring the spending of public money, of NGOs focusing on the impact of procurement on civil society and of academics researching and training on all aspects of public procurement, the South African society can collaboratively construct a fit-for-purpose procurement system that can deliver best value for money.