Sisulu vows to crack the state whip
‘Consultants can’t be hired to do the work of government officials’
Public Service and Administration Minister Lindiwe Sisulu is angry.
She wants a clampdown on the misuse of consultants by government departments and has vowed to put an end to the irregular practice of appointing consultants to do the jobs of permanently employed officials.
Sisulu spoke to City Press in the wake of the release of a shocking report by the Auditor-General this week, detailing R102 billion spent by national and provincial governments on consultants over the past three financial years.
The investigation did not include local government spending. Sisulu echoed the Auditor-General’s sentiments that resources spent on consultants should rather be channelled towards training public servants to deliver these services.
“What we do not want are consultants who are hired to do the same jobs officials are hired to do. That must not happen. Officials must do what they are hired for. The accounting officers of departments are the custodians of planning and procurement processes,” said Sisulu.
But government could not do without the services of consultants, who fill the skills gap in the public service. Sisulu warned errant senior public servants who did not follow government regulations when managing consulting contracts to expect government to act against them.
“We are in the process of finalising a new public service charter to propel the public service to higher productivity. This will include better monitoring of performance and evaluation of work.
“Government employs people to perform specific tasks. From time to time they might need consultants to assist them to achieve a certain objective, from fast-tracking delivery to enhancing their work.
“We believe in a clean and accountable government, and those who do not assist us to achieve this commitment have no place in our public service,” said Sisulu.
A skills audit, currently under way at provincial and national departments, revealed that government was making progress in retaining and training staff, but “initial indications are that there is a problem”, said Sisulu.
“We agree with the Auditor-General that government must get value for money. We believe government must allocate more financial resources for training and retraining of public servants.
“To that effect we are establishing a school for governance to ensure that public servants are well trained. We have also insisted that accounting officers must spend more money on training employees, and ensure that all contracts with consultants include transfer of skills,” said Sisulu.
Cabinet had also prioritised the filling of vacant posts in government as one of their main priorities and that disciplinary processes in the state should be shortened to enable the transfer of skills.
The Auditor-General identified vacant posts and lengthy suspensions as the main reasons consultants failed to transfer skills to government officials.
Deputy Auditor-General Kimi Makwetu said in most instances consultants found senior managers were either suspended, or posts were vacant, which meant consultants could not fulfil one of their main roles: the transfer of skills.
Makwetu said if government filled posts and followed the recommendations made in the report, “you would gradually see the decline in the amount spent on consultants”.
The skills crisis in government also meant departments were forced to outsource services at higher cost, said Makwetu.
“This relationship between the public and private is necessary, and you can’t wish it away. But what we have found is a litany of systemic problems in the manner in which these consultants’ contracts are managed,” said Makwetu.
He said the report warranted a “deeper investigation” into departments at provincial level, which accounted for R68 billion of the total spend on consultants.
Graham Pirie, chief executive of Consulting Engineers SA, representing engineers who consult with government, expressed concern that the Auditor-General’s report painted every consultant with the same brush.
Pirie claimed that there would be no service delivery without consultants and lashed the state for lacking proper management systems, which resulted in delays in paying R1 billion owed to engineering firms.
The organisation had its own proper controls to promote open and honest dealings with the state, including transferring skills and mentoring government employees, said Pirie.
In the same vein, Deloitte, which provides audit, tax, consulting and financial advisory services to departments, blamed high staff turnover in government for its reliance on consultants.
The constant turnover of employees in leadership positions in departments results in recommended improvements and enhancements by consultants not being implemented by government.
“This often results in the identified deficiencies continuing to exist, (wrongly) portraying ineffective use of consultants,” said the company.
The company said an improvement in the governance and management of consultants would decrease government’s dependency on consultants.