Cape Town – Parliament's Standing Committee on Public Accounts (SCOPA) has called on National Treasury to develop a system to prevent accounting officers of state entities abusing their right to deviate from, or expand upon, standard procurement guidelines.
National Treasury guidelines allow for an entity or department to deviate from procurement guidelines in an emergency, or if the service provider in question is the sole supplier.
Accounting officers heading serial deviants should also be punished, SCOPA said – and this should apply across all spheres of government.
This came after National Treasury briefed SCOPA on the state of deviations at government's various departments and entities.
In the third and fourth quarter of the 2017/2018 financial year alone, Treasury said, the top five transgressors procured a combined R2.3bn worth of goods and services through deviations.
These were Eskom; the Department of Defence and Military Veterans; the Government Communication and Information Service; the Education, Training and Development Practices Sectoral Education and Training Authority; and the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.
The South African Revenue Service, which followed closely behind the top five, procured to the value of R52m in the third quarter of 2017-18.
The top three entities and departments in deviations for quarter three and four of 2017/18 were the Department of Defence at R734m, Eskom at R553m and the State Information Technology Agency (Sita) at R288m.
The top three entities and departments for expansions for quarter three and four of 2017/18 were Eskom with R11.3bn, SARS at R917m and the South African Post Office at R313m.
In a statement after the briefing, SCOPA said it wanted National Treasury to establish firmly a process of handling approvals, so that there would be greater transparency and collective agreements for decisions taken.
"Scopa is aware that currently, departments and entities are not required to report on deviations that are under the 15% threshold.
"Scopa wants the National Treasury to request reports on all deviations from departments, municipalities and entities, because it has often been found that that is where a lot of corruption takes place," the statement said.
SCOPA member for the Inkatha Freedom Party, Mkhuleko Hlengwa, said National Treasury could no longer put off charging people who have abused the system, saying SCOPA must not hesitate on consequence management.
"Deviations and expansions are slowly becoming the norm and not the exception. If we allow this trend to continue, we are making it more and more difficult to get a handle on the problem and stop the leakage," said Hlengwa.
SCOPA member for the African National Congress Mnyamezeli Booi said the committee would demand quarterly updates on the deviations and expansions sought by entities, as well as National Treasury’s interventions into the challenge.
"People who apply for deviations and people who benefit from deviations are already in the system and have the money and contacts inside of Treasury to keep benefit[ing]. In that sense, this is also a transformation issue. One might propose that we decentralise this and give the sign-off authority to the provinces," said Booi.
SCOPA member for the ANC Thapelo Chiloane said it was up to National Treasury to find ways to curtail deviations as departments continued to abuse them.
"In terms of the Public Finance Management Act, Treasury should be able to have systems that allow them to detect abuse. When you see a R400 000 marquee and every other item is the same amount for an event, you should have a system that tells you something is not right here," Chiloane said.
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