In an open letter to President Cyril Ramaphosa and Minister of Finance Tito Mboweni, Corruption Watch and the Public Affairs Research Institute (PARI) expressed their concern regarding the "high levels of corruption being committed through our public procurement system".
Corruption Watch and PARI said it was "now or never" for leadership to deal with corruption in the country, and further called on government to introduce a Bill that would ensure transparency.
"The pandemic-related corruption is a perfect example of the instability and turmoil that ill-judged and corrupt procurement practices unleash on our society – incurring losses and wasteful expenditure that our society simply cannot afford.
"Fortuitously, there is another golden opportunity that exists at the moment to introduce such change: the draft Public Procurement Bill. We write to you in this letter about seizing the opportunity this draft legislation could represent.
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"The majority of the corruption that has been exposed during the pandemic has been through procurement processes. Our organisational work involves analysing the public procurement sphere."
The organisations said it was clear that there are significant weaknesses in the existing system which "enable and facilitate widespread procurement corruption".
They added that the draft Bill offer the country an opportunity to create a new procurement system which will allow for effective, efficient and transparent procurement of goods and services while preventing corruption.
"This draft legislation represents one of the most significant levers we can use to reform this sphere, an area of work vital, as you well know, to a society concerned with sustainable and inclusive growth and pursuing social justice. However, we are concerned."
Corruption Watch and PARI further said that they did not sense a degree of commitment and urgency from government to fight corruption, which was immediately required on the matter despite the importance of public procurement and the centrality of parliamentary legislation to state practice.
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"South Africa's procurement system must, in accordance with section 217 of the Constitution, be one which is 'fair, equitable, transparent, competitive and cost-effective', and should provide for 'the protection or advancement of persons, or categories of persons, disadvantaged by unfair discrimination'.
"These are lofty goals but, we believe, addressing the weaknesses in the current system through the draft Bill will help realise these constitutional promises."
They continued to say that government needed a clear demonstration of strong political will and direction, as well as a willingness to collaborate with all stakeholders, including civil society, in the drafting process of the Bill.
"While we welcome the appearance of this draft legislation and understand the 30-day extension of the period for comments decided upon by National Treasury, we believe that this important process of policy formulation and legislative drafting in the national interest is happening with neither the necessary focus nor with the appropriate speed.
"We urgently call on you both to demonstrate the bold leadership and political will required to ensure the re-drafting process is rigorous, participatory and decisive, and that it draws input from all sectors of government."
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The organisations added that they made submissions on the draft Bill in June 2020.
"In those submissions we indicated our unease with various elements of the Bill as it stands.
"We made a broad range of concrete proposals to, among other things, streamline procurement operations, constrain improper political interference in the procurement system, improve transparency and accountability, and incentivise and support whistle-blowers.
"As civil society organisations, we remain committed to working with National Treasury to strengthen the Bill and to construct a procurement system that serves as a vehicle to address the most basic needs of society."
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