State to deal with the spending of billions on consultants

2015-02-23 10:41

The R30 billion spent on the hiring of consultants by government departments over a year was a neglected problem that will be dealt with at a public accounts meeting next month.

“There has been an obsession with getting clean audits from departments and this issue has been neglected,” Mbongeni Radebe, the general secretary of the Association of Public Accounts Committees, said yesterday.

The organisation, which advocates clean governance at provincial and national level, will address the wasteful expenditure on consultants at a meeting of its national executive committee in Gauteng on March 30.

Participation will extend to municipalities because the problem extended to all three tiers of government, he said.

Radebe was responding to a City Press report which said that R30.45 billion had been spent on consultants at 115 of 131 national and provincial departments in the 2013-2014 financial year.

This was despite recent treasury directives to curtail such expenditure.

An investigation revealed that consultants were paid to do everything from designing roads to supplying stationery for civil servants, organising parties and decorating residences.

Read: State blows R30bn on consultants

The R30 billion was a fifth of last year’s entire health budget and was enough to cover the entire Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project, which was not being paid for by motorists via e-tolls.

State blows R30m billion on consultants

“The problem is that there is no diligence,” said Radebe.

“For instance, many consultants are extended year on year without due process and skills are not being transferred from consultants to the departments.”

Concerns had been raised in reports of the Auditor-General through the years.

“The issue has also been flagged many times by [former finance minister] Pravin Gordhan and [current finance minister] Nhlanhla Nene, but reduction measures need to be followed through.”

The finance ministry responded yesterday by saying that the government was cracking down on the hiring of consultants who were brought in to do the same work as staff.

“This is the use of consultants that the government wants to eliminate,” said Nene’s spokesperson Jabulani Sikhakhane.

He said the use of consultants was justifiable in cases of work that was seasonal, of a short-term duration, or “where government requires specialised skills which are neither available within the government or are too expensive to hire full-time, especially when such skills were not going to be used on a full-time basis”.

Another issue was that the costs of consultancy services varied across departments and the government needed to manage consultants to ensure that it “gets the quality service it has paid for and that such a service is delivered on time”.

Steps had been taken through the office of the chief procurement officer to centralise services through a list of approved suppliers who had been vetted for cost and quality.

Sikhakhane pointed out that cost containment measures came into effect only from January 2014.

“This means they were in effect only for three months of the 2013-2014 financial year.”

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