College of Economic & Management Sciences

Civic engagement vital in state procurement

Prof Glenda Gray (President and CEO: SAMRC) delivered a CEMS virtual public lecture last month at Unisa.

"A reform of the health system is necessary. It was already failing and fragile before the pandemic, but was devastated by it," Prof Glenda Gray, president and CEO of the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC), argued during a College of Economic and Management Sciences (CEMS) virtual public lecture on 13 August 2020 at Unisa.

Referring to corruption and fraud in the procurement of Covid-19 equipment in South Africa, Gray said that initially there was a global scramble for personal protective equipment (PPE). In a situation like this, supply chain management should be flexible and agile while, at the same time, making sure people do the right thing with taxpayers’ money. Procurement wasn’t what we would have wanted in the epidemic, she said.

She referred to the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA) and the regulations that guide government procurement and said that there are enough regulations to ensure financial control and a good audit trail. At the same time the act also makes provision for a deviation from the regulations as long as the reasons for the deviation are recorded and approved.

But the correct processes were not followed and the taxpayer was instead ripped off by the procurement process. In some instances, equipment was procured at five times the normal price for PPE that was in many instances sub-optimal and put healthcare workers at risk.

How this situation is dealt with will play out in the next couple of years. We have learnt a lot about supply chain management and how to ensure emergency procurement, Gray said.

Referring to accountability, she called on citizens to ensure that government procurement methods are efficient, transparent and economical. "We as citizens should keep government on track and demand accountability for our tax rands," Gray argued.

Managing the pandemic is a socio-economic balancing act of lives versus livelihoods. The objective was always to protect the vulnerable, but, in the end, this didn’t happen.

Instead a study shows that a huge percentage of the population experienced job losses. This hit the poorest of the poor the hardest as they accounted for 40% of the job losses. It resulted in a huge contraction of household finances and economic devastation -  especially of the poor.

Already in April one in four people was going hungry. The distribution of food parcels was also largely unsuccessful and the R350 grants came in late.

According to Gray, Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize and the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCC) did seriously consider advisories from the ministerial advisory committee. While there was an interplay between science and politics to make sure the response was evidence-based, they implemented certain advisories and modified others to include the opinions of bodies such as the teachers’ unions and the taxi industry.

* By Ilze Crous, Communication and Marketing Specialist, College of Economic and Management Sciences

Publish date: 2020/09/17