Do we really need these sinkholes?

2011-12-10 10:15

The central government takeover of ­departments in three provincial ­administrations is a long overdue ­signal to the free-spending ways of this second tier of government that the party must end.

The system is not working and our political leaders must, sooner or later, bite the provincial bullet and ask: do we really need them? We don’t think so based on the ­following five reasons.

1. This week’s action by the Treasury to take over departments in Gauteng, the Free State and Limpopo shows financial management is almost non-existent.

Overspending is rampant and the departments of three provinces have together ­depleted their funds as well as overdrafts.

That’s pretty shocking when you balance it against the poor standards of delivery in each province, and consider that staff numbers and salaries have been substantially boosted since President Jacob Zuma came to power, bolstered by the votes of public service unions.

2. The auditor-general has shown that despite the growing public sector wage bill – which ­Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan says is ­crowding out spending on infrastructure, ­education and health – the use of consultants across government is widespread. In effect, you are paying a double public sector wage bill.

This week, analysts pointed out that the national government had good skills, but that the provinces and municipalities lacked basic financial skills. They were most likely to use consultants.

3. Because the provinces are responsible for the largest chunk of public sector spending, they have become the favoured location of tenderpreneurs – the term used to describe politically connected owners of businesses who have corralled the state tender system into tightly controlled networks.

Our series of investigations this year has shown how Limpopo is run by a mafia-like network of influential political cronies where, for example, a company partly owned by the family trust of ANC Youth League president Julius Malema has taken over the running of a government department’s procurement processes.

The public protector is probing whether such contracts are legal.

4. The auditor-general has revealed that ­spending on infrastructure across all provinces is beset by planning, procurement and project ­management problems.

Consider that the ­provinces have had R32 billion to spend on ­infrastructure over the past three years and it’s clear that this layer of the state is incredibly wasteful.

5. Provinces have become politically ­destabilising. Because governance is poor, ­protests are frequent, and ANC factionalism ­intensifies the situation. 

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