Chris Moerdyk

Govt departments stealing ideas for friends

2013-04-15 08:34

Chris Moerdyk

It will be very interesting to follow the case of the fellow who is claiming that MTN has stolen his ideas because it is not often that this sort of thing finds its way into a court of law. All I do know is that there are always two sides to a story and I'm looking forward to hearing both of them.

The theft of intellectual capital is widespread and it's mostly a question of the big guys ripping off the small guys and then the small guys realising that they haven't actually got a hope in hell of winning against the big guys because the way the law seems to work these days is that whoever has the most money wins.

I remember a few years ago being told by the marketing director of a big consumer brand here in South Africa that every now and then they go through the motions of inviting advertising agencies to pitch for their accounts. He quite openly told me that he didn't have any intention of changing his agency; he just wanted to see what new idea would come up for him to use.

In political circles, South Africa's new national sport - "Jobs for Pals" - has taken a turn with allegations that government departments are stealing marketing ideas and passing them on to friends.

This is what apparently happens. A company with a great idea for an event, promotion or campaign, presents it to a functionary at a government department who asks a few questions and promises to look into it to see if it has merit.

Dozens of e-mail and phone messages go unanswered and then the prospective supplier is told that the department isn't interested.

A month or so after that there's an announcement by said department of something uncannily similar. Names have been changed as well as a few details but generally speaking it's pretty much the identical concept that was turned down and which is now being handled for the department by another supplier.

The tragedy of course is that whenever I get these irate callers and suggest that they either go public with their grievances or lodge an official complaint with the minister in the presidency tasked with investigating exactly this kind of thing, I am told that any whistle-blower will almost "certainly be ostracised and blacklisted to the point of never getting any more government business".

In addition to which they believe they will probably be accused by the private sector of being "opportunists or sore losers".

Which, I believe, is absolute rubbish. Because this is really what is wrong with this country - people don't want to be seen to be complaining; don't want to take a stand against corruption and would rather just let sleeping dogs lie.  But, they're quite happy to do all they can to get the media to plead their case.

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