Irregular expenditure in national and provincial government departments and State-Owned Enterprises is costing South Africa billions of rands every year. Political interference in public sector procurement was one of the compelling topics on the agenda at the 16th annual Smart Procurement World Indaba.
Thandy Pino, who is the founder and CEO of Ntakha Consulting and former Chief Director of Supply Chain and Asset Management at the Gauteng Department of Health, shared her insights and advice on this challenge. She described political interference as an emotional subject for public sector procurement practitioners. “However, whether we love them or hate them, politicians are one of the procurement profession’s important stakeholders and they need to be served ethically,” she told the more than 500 delegates who attended the Indaba to learn and network.
Pino asserted that procurement practitioners can enable political interference by telling politicians what they want to hear. She stressed the importance of unwavering adherence to supply chain processes, and to ensuring that politicians know that “you know and are committed to the processes and systems”. She recommended using every opportunity to empower and educate others – including politicians – on the supply chain management process, including using policies, circulars, instruction notes and presentations. “When you receive an instruction or mandate, always refer to the legislation,” she advised Indaba attendees. “Ask for the Central Supplier Database (CSD) report. If the supplier is not on the database, then they are not compliant. Never have deals or agreements with politicians without your superiors,” she stressed.
She also urged public sector procurement professionals to use their Chief Financial Officer (CFO) or Accounting Officer to shield them from political pressure. “In government, I have never known of a head of supply chain management who reports to the political head. In our profession, we do not report to politicians but to the highest accounting officer who is usually the CFO.
“Somehow, we have a way of finding ourselves mixed up with politicians for reasons I do not know,” Pino said, and she told Smart Procurement Indaba attendees that she always keeps a social distance from politicians.
“Politicians need us. We need them. However, we need to co-exist in harmony.” To do this, Pino emphasised the importance of supply chain practitioners engaging professionally with politicians, educating and empowering them, and serving them ethically.
Fraud and the vital role of whistleblowers were also on the programme at this year’s Smart Procurement World Indaba. In his gripping presentation entitled “Let’s Talk About the ‘F’ Word”, Steven Powell noted that for everyone in the supply chain management world, fraud is something that “creeps in” at some time. Director of ENSafrica and a witness and Investigator for the State Capture Commission, Powell shared accounts of his work in uncovering tender fraud and corruption.
Whisleblowing is a crucial tool in the fight against corruption, and this was examined at the Indaba in a powerful presentation by Liezl Groenewald, Senior Manager at The Ethics Institute South Africa and Co-Founding Director of Whistleblower House.
“Encouraging people to speak up and expose wrongdoing is a major factor in fighting fraud, corruption and unethical behaviour. The mere presence of a whistleblowing system may be enough to deter people,” she said.
Expanding on the importance of whistleblowing, she explained that it can prevent issues from escalating. “Whistleblowing provides an opportunity to detect problems early on. When the information is shared directly with the dedicated team, the company can deal with the concern immediately, before it escalates.”
She said that it can also reduce losses. “A company can prevent it corruption, fraud or theft from happening again. Painful losses which are damaging for everyone, from employees to clients and suppliers, can be avoided.
“Without whistleblowers, we may be unaware of illegal or unethical conduct in a company,” she noted. “The information they pass on, no matter the degree of severity or the nature of it, can raise awareness of issues and concerns. With such knowledge in hand, a company can learn, grow and flourish. A proper whistleblowing system is essential to manage breaches in a quick and constructive way,” Groenewald told Indaba attendees.
To protect whistleblowers and avoid retaliation against them, she recommended that organisations develop a comprehensive whistleblowing policy. Having independent investigators, training management, following-up with whistleblowers and ensuring confidentiality and their anonymity were also vital, she said.
The annual Smart Procurement World Indaba is South Africa’s largest, longest-standing conference and expo for procurement and inbound supply chain professionals. According to organiser Smart Procurement World, this year was a landmark Indaba as it offered the profession a critical opportunity to meet in person to learn and network for the first time since the start of the pandemic.
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