Pretoria – Corruption Watch said on Tuesday it had written to the National Treasury raising concerns around the increased possibility of looting of public funds due to relaxed procurement measures intended to expedite purchasing of goods to manage South Africa’s Covid-19 health crisis.

The NPOs executive director, David Lewis, said that in its letter, Corruption Watch highlighted the risks posed by a lack of transparency and the potential inability to monitor emergency procurement under Treasury’s framework.

“It’s important to note that Section 217 of the Constitution provides that public procurement be fair, equitable, transparent, competitive and cost-effective.

“These principles continue to govern procurement even in the circumstances that have necessitated a relaxation of certain of the regulations governing procurement,” said Lewis.

He said the organisation had requested, in writing, clarification on several aspects of the regulatory framework.

This included measures put in place to keep prices in check and ensure continuity of supply, and the apparent absence of reporting requirements, as well as obligations to share this information on publicly accessible platforms.

The public’s ability to access information was of great concern, said Lewis.

It was imperative that all procurement, particularly in the context of Covid-19, was open to scrutiny and monitoring by government and third parties, including members of civil society, through the publication thereof on open platforms, he said.

The discretionary use of emergency procurement laws – open to interpretation – was an area of particular vulnerability, as items procured under this category may not necessarily be related to management of the virus, said Lewis.

Corruption Watch was seeking assurances from Treasury that the interpretation of how the instructions were to be implemented reduced opportunities for irregular and corrupt procurement. The organisation also asked that the inherent absence of transparency in the framework be addressed.

Corruption Watch commended government’s action in providing relief during the Covid-19 health crisis, but Treasury still needed to tighten loopholes in procurement processes, it said.

“Given the rampant corruption that has characterised public procurement, it is especially necessary that procurement under the emergency instructions be subject to tight scrutiny,” said Lewis.

“The onus is on government to ensure that public scrutiny is enabled. This is the spirit of our communication with the National Treasury.”

Treasury has until May 7 to respond to Corruption Watch’s letter.

The instruction note from Treasury, and the Municipal Finance Management Act (MFMA) circular of March 19, were restricted to commodities required to limit the spread of the virus, effective on the signed date, and would terminate once a pronouncement was made to declare the end of the disaster, or once Treasury retracted the instruction note.

African News Agency

By Jonisayi Maromo