Time to overhaul South African procurement, say professionals

A national group comprising project managers, engineers, architects, quantity surveyors and other built environment professionals in South Africa has called for an overhaul of the public procurement process in order to free up bottlenecks and prevent corruption.

The call, by the Built Environment Professions Grouping (BEP), follows research published last year which found that 71% of consultants, clients and contractors in South Africa have personal experience of corruption, and that the principal offenders in their view are government officials.

In a statement published by Consulting Engineers South Africa, the group calls for the open publishing of construction contracts awarded, and for the government to create an evaluation and monitoring unit to ensure professionals and departments comply with legislation.

President Zuma (SABC)

The BEP group said it welcomed the government’s infrastructure budget, launched by President Jacob Zuma last year. It sets out 18 major strategic integrated projects, together costing approximately four trillion rand over the next 15 years. But the BEP group warned that lack of transparency in procurement would hamper delivery.

"This manifests itself in the form of obscure decision-making processes and unequal distribution of professional services, bolstered by a high potential for corruption coupled with weak accountability mechanisms and lack of scrutiny over allocation of public funds," the group said. 

A report published last year by researchers at Cape Town University and the RMIT University of Melbourne suggested that corruption was widespread in the South African construction industry.

Studying 493 responses to a questionnaire that asked clients, consultants and contractors about their  experiences of corruption, researchers found that all sections of the industry are perceived as corrupt, but government officials were thought to be most corrupt.

Commonly reported forms of corruption among public clients included seeking kickbacks from successful bidders and additional payments for administrative services, the research found.

"Corruption in the South African Construction Industry", by Paul Bowen, Keith Cattell and Peter Edwards was published in the journal Construction Management and Economics in October 2012.

The BEP group, which includes the Association of Construction Project Managers, the Association of South African Quantity Surveyors, Consulting Engineers South Africa and the South African Institute of Architects, also called for a mutually agreed selection methodology for appointing professionals.

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