Tenders can be cruel so let's privatise precarious provinces
Two Free State provincial government officials are talking on the phone: "Hello Gawie, it's Vusi here. Can you talk? Where are you anyway?"
"Vusi, howzit? I'm working. I'm at a supplier relationship-building exercise."
"Ag nooit, Gawie; not another golf day!"
"Ja, but this is lank important hey. It's at the Bloem Country Club and it's for Vilakazi and Strydom; you know, the contractors who rebuilt that 30km stretch of the R999 for us last year and the bridges over the Sterkstroom and the Renosterspruit. They're key suppliers, you know. And the first prize today is a whole skaap. Jislaaik, we can have a lekker spit braai if Temba and I win this thing."
"I'm amazed that they're even talking to you, Gawie, never mind inviting you to their golf day; we haven't paid them a cent since 2010."
"Ja, but they're desperate for our business and, let's face it, we're the only game in town. They understand that we have processes and things that mean we can't just hand over public money sommer so."
"Eish. Well good luck but, in the meantime, we have a slight problem. The DG has been getting it in the neck recently. It seems the president has been giving the MEC grief and the MEC has been giving the DG grief about why we're not paying those Sanyati okes for their work. And if they don't get paid they're going to go out of business and that isn't going to reflect well on the provincial government and the national government's commitment to job creation and small business and all that sort of stuff."
"Hang on, Vusi. Are you talking about the president of the Free State Emerging Contractors' Forum? That old windbag Sithole? Everyone knows that that job he did for us in Kroonstad fell over the first time it rained. His only problem is that he's the supplier and we're the client and so we keep him waiting for his bucks. Just like they do in the private sector."
"No, Gawie, I'm talking about the president of the whole country. Zuma. He wants to know why we're not paying these okes for work already done."
"Luister, Vusi, I'd love to help you but Temba and I are about to tee off. You know, we have to prioritise our supplier relations and these processes just take time. I can't help you right now. Got serious relationship-building to do."
"Oh, okay, Gawie. I quite understand. I'll tell the DG to tell the MEC to tell the president that the head of our payments disbursement division is being rushed off his feet and just can't find the time to sign the Sanyati cheque. In fact, I'll tell him we take our responsibility to upskill our key staff so seriously that you're on a course right now."
"Heh heh, lekker, Vusi. That will do the trick. Got to go now; we're up next."
"Lekker man, good luck. And don't forget to invite me to your skaap braai."
In case you're wondering, I made up the above exchange. But you can't help imagining that something similar is going on in the Free State.
Sanyati has gone bust because the Free State government either couldn't or wouldn't pay it a legitimate debt of R60-million. Even imprecations from the highest office in the land were seemingly insufficient to cut through the layers of bureaucracy to prevent the demise of this contractor and the jobs of all the people it employed.
In the Eastern Cape, 12000 small businesses are the major victims of a R1.4-billion failure by that province's government to pay suppliers.
Surely the time has come to put the provincial governments out to tender? There is a scarily thin layer of skills in our public sector and, with the odd exception, it doesn't penetrate to our provinces. With very rare exceptions, it doesn't come close to our local and district municipalities.
Let's just admit that while we do lots of things terribly well (like cricket and boerewors), we're not very good at things like soccer and local government.
Let's privatise Pietermaritzburg and put Limpopo out for tender. There would probably be a margin involved in having private-sector consultants running our metros and provinces, but at least services might be delivered once in a while and small and medium suppliers would actually get paid on time.
And if Deloittes wanted to run Bloemfontein we could make it sort out Harrismith and Welkom as part of the package.