The government has welcomed a report by South Africa's Auditor-General calling for stricter controls on the use of consultants after finding that eight government departments spent R24.6-billion on consultants over a three-year period.
Briefing the media in Cape Town on Thursday, Deputy Auditor-General Kimi Makwetu said a performance audit had been conducted on eight national government departments, including the departments of health, correctional services and police, covering the period 2008 to 2011.
According to the report, which was tabled before Parliament on Thursday, the total expenditure on consultants by the eight departments amounted to R24.6 billion - comprising 74% of the government's national expenditure of R33.5-billion on consultants over the three-year period.
Provincial governments had spent an additional R68.5-billion on consultants over the three-year period, bringing total state spending on consultants to R102-billion. A report on the provinces, Makwetu said, would be available at a later stage.
Skills transfer, staff turnover
The areas that the report focused on, Makwetu said, included whether or not proper planning processes were followed, and the level of training and transfer of skills. Makwetu said that if skills were not transferred to staff at departments, this would likely result in consultants being used extensively.
The report found that in some cases, it would have been more effective to use permanent department staff.
Although the report indicated inadequate planning as well as high turnover of staff in key positions, it said the picture could be turned around, provided departments had the right control systems in place.
Makwetu said ministers and chairpersons of portfolio committees of the audited departments had been engaged on the matter, and that a positive response had been forthcoming.
The report recommended that state departments and entities extensively cover the use of consultants in their strategic and business plans, so that these could be properly reviewed by Parliament's portfolio committees.
Improving control measures
Phumla Williams, the acting CEO of the Government Communication and Information System (GCIS), said the government welcomed the report, and noted its recommendation to improve control measures in order to get best value for services provided by external consultants.
Ministers and the heads of administration of affected government departments had engaged extensively with the Auditor-General and had committed to take immediate action to remedy the situation.
Williams added that further recommendations set out in the report would be appraised and implemented where needed.
"The role of the auditor-general is important to the country in providing independent assurance that governmental activities are carried out and accounted for," Williams said.
"Government is committed that the processes for appointing consultants will be strengthened and compliance with related legal frameworks and regulations will be applied."