Tenders: slow progress in cases

2019-01-07 15:26

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Corruption in the awarding of government tenders in the province has reached alarming levels, with investigators struggling to cope with the number of cases brought before them.

An investigation by The Witness has revealed that there were more than 300 forensic investigations undertaken across departments in the last five years, with the bulk of the cases being within the provincial government’s procurement units.

Through documents obtained from departments and the Select Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa) meetings, the investigations resulted in 49 disciplinary hearings and 15 criminal cases.

Provincial departments, which refer most of the cases to the provincial Treasury Department as they do not have adequate capacity to investigate financial misconduct, are forced to keep employees accused of serious transgression for several years due to the slow progress in the investigation of the cases.

In one example, the investigation of a KZN Housing Fund employee under the provincial Human Settlements Department took eight years to complete.

The employee in question had been accused of allocating state properties to family members in 2010.

However, by the time the investigation was completed in April last year, the employee had already resigned and the department could not institute disciplinary action against him.

The spike in cases of corruption within provincial government departments in recent years has seen the Special Investigative Unit (SIU) and the Hawks being roped in.

The provincial Treasury Department did not respond to questions asking it to confirm the number of investigations it was currently undertaking.

However, sources within the department’s audit committee told The Witness that the sharp increase in fraud and corruption cases within departments has resulted in an increase in the number of cases being outsourced to private auditing firms.

“The problem about this is that most of these firms deal mainly with private accounts and have no experience in the public sector,” the source said.

“Their investigations are often of a poor quality as they have a limited understanding of the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA) and other government policies.”

With 119 investigations, of which 51 are ongoing, the provincial Education Department tops the list.

The mismanagement of school funds and the payment of ghost teachers are some of the matters that the investigators had been focusing on in the department.

Even in instances where investigations have been completed and employees found to have committed serious transgressions, departments still fail to take action against the culprits.

In 2017 Premier Willies Mchunu received a forensic report showing that there had been corruption in the allocation of contracts worth R23 million with the premier department’s supply chain unit.

Despite the report having recommended disciplinary, as well as criminal charges against certain employees within the unit, no action has been taken against those who had been implicated.

DA KwaZulu-Natal legislature chief whip and member of Scopa Francois Rodgers said the lack of capacity to conduct proper investigations was a major concern as it created a climate of lack of accountability and no consequence management.

“The majority of forensic investigations take years to complete, resulting in many implicated officials resigning and then through the ‘revolving door’ syndrome, taking up employment in another department or in another province.

“When the rate of conviction is less than 50% of all investigations, you have to say to yourself that the ANC government has failed. The net result is that fraud and corruption continues unabated. The Auditor-General’s report corroborates this fact,” he said.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  tenders
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