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Corruption Watch: Health department procurement processes don’t contain the data required for accountability and transparency

Corruption Watch: Health department procurement processes don’t contain the data required for accountability and transparency
Health procurement processes and platforms need to be more transparent. (Photo: stratnews.com / adobestock / Wikipedia)

Government’s procurement portals do not meet constitutional requirements, say activists.

On Tuesday 30 March, Corruption Watch and Open Cities Labs (OCL) revealed their research findings on the transparency of South Africa’s health procurement data. Open Cities Labs “is a non-profit open and non-partisan organisation that combines the use of action research, co-design, data science and technology with civic engagement, to enable the development of inclusive cities and urban spaces”. 

The organisations are advocating for what is called “Open contracting” for health to ensure that the procurement process is transparent. This campaign is led by Transparency International Health Initiative and has been operational in South Africa since 2018.

The Department of Health has various national and provincial procurement portals. The research focused specifically on the eTenders Publication Portal, North West Department of Health Website and the Gauteng Provincial Government Tender Information Portal.

Data scientist at OCL Thandi Bhengu said the research revealed that there was not enough data published on the procurement portals. A lot of the data was incomplete, making it difficult to properly analyse it.

Indicators of potential corruption and irregularity were common phone numbers for different suppliers, a tendering period of fewer than 21 days and the percentage of tender adverts that didn’t publish basic tender information. Another factor was picking up dates that were clearly incorrect, such as “30 February”, making data verification difficult.

Bhengu said she believed many corrupt activities were hidden in the paper-based method of procurement. 

Founder of OCL Richard Gevers said there needed to be more literacy and capacity building on the part of the government for watchdogs to use the portals more effectively.

“We really hope primarily as a country we can service the needs of citizens, especially the most vulnerable and the most excluded, through public health intervention in which, of course, contracting is critical.”

He said the open contracting portal was meant to provide procurement information to ordinary people so they could understand the processes better, and also to hold the government to account, and that it was an evidence-based approach to transparency.

Gevers said the private sector could also stand to benefit from using the platform as they too needed to be accountable and transparent.

Kirsten Pearson from Corruption Watch said that transparency during procurement was a constitutional imperative, stipulated in section 217, and should this not happen, it was grounds for challenging the process as unconstitutional.

Pearson said civil society had a duty to work towards demanding greater transparency and accountability from the government because without the requisite information there was no way of knowing whether procurement processes were fair.

There needed to be more consequences for those who do not follow proper procurement policies, said Pearson. She said that the kind of large IT projects such as procurement portals that ultimately weren’t used were not helpful. There should instead be a look towards piloting smaller data studies projects.  

Pearson said procurement was one of the country’s more pressing reforms. 

“We need to keep showing up and doing the work, and find opportunities for collaboration while valuing those collaborations that already exist,” she said. DM/MC

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