28 January 2013

South Africa: Consultants Squander Billions From Public Purse

The South African Municipal Workers Union (SAMWU) is outraged at the extent to which Government utilises consultants and squanders Billions of Rands, and nothing is ever done about it. In the Local Government sector, which we know intimately, we have decried the chronic dependency on consultants for nearly two decades. From our own experience we are very conscious of the fact that not all consultants are wolves in sheep’s clothing, but sadly many behave as if they are.

The problem of referring challenges to consultants is that it tends to reinforce a poor planning culture within departments, and leads to consultants being brought in to fire-fight.

In addition, using consultants so pervasively, and the example given of the Defence Ministry hiring consultants to manage other consultants is a classic case in point, is that it releases senior Government officials from the responsibility of developing capacity within their own departments.

By far the most damaging political aspect of the consultancy tsunami is that levels of accountability become chronically eroded, and instead of ministers and senior Government officials being held responsible for service delivery and other matters, the blame is deflected and siphoned off on to the contract failures of consultants, who remain outside of accountable structures. It is now universally accepted that if consultants are used in this manner, opportunities for corruption are immeasurably enhanced.

There should be a moratorium on the use of consultants until Government at all levels has strengthened planning and oversight mechanisms for monitoring their activities properly, including hard evidence to show that local and internal capacity is being enhanced. Second that Government must lead by example, and ensure that workplace skills plans, training targets, and the filling of vacancies are immediately addressed in a developmental framework that genuinely strengthens service delivery to our people. Third, that there must be a thorough investigation into the use of consultants, including a register detailing their delivery successes and failures, and that lays down clear guidelines for their deployment if and when they are actually needed. Fourthly, there needs to be more conscious attempts to engage with our people, and especially in terms of Integrated Development Plans at local level, but also on every aspect of service delivery. This would be good for democracy and for our economy.

We believe these measures, and many more, can help to turn around our economy to one that is explicitly based on the needs of our people, and not one that perpetuates the chronic disparities associated with the past. We urge our Government to make a decisive break with the consultancy culture, and build on the strengths of our people.

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