Govt spends R33,7bn on consultants

The government has been heavily criticised for spending millions on consultants in recent years.

The government has been heavily criticised for spending millions on consultants in recent years. Picture: EWN.

CAPE TOWN - The government has been heavily criticised for spending millions on consultants in recent years.

In the last financial year, government spent R33,7 billion on consultants.

This has been attributed to an exodus of technical skills over the last two decades from government to the private sector.

Currently, the auditor general is investigating the use of consultants by municipalities.

Parliament's Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa) has also expressed concern over the excessive use of consultants by various government departments.

Community Agency for Social Enquiry (CASE) Executive Director Mohamed Motala told the Redi Tlhabi Show that some projects could be handled in-house, without involving consultants.

"Not everything should be done by a consultant and I would also argue that not everything can be and should be done by government.

"For example, organising the 2010 World Cup, you wouldn't want to have employed a whole range of people within government to manage a big project like that. One needs to distinguish between short-term projects, which are not recurring projects. For those, yes you would need expertise to come from outside."

"More importantly, there are some things that I think government can't do and should not do. For example, projects should be managed from inside government and handing over the management responsibility to consultants is wrong. But measuring government performance for example, that can't be done by government itself. That is where you do need people on the outside to be able measure government's performance."

Motala said non-profit organisations were willing to get their hands dirty.

"The Community Agency for Social Enquiry is an NGO. We provide consultancy services to government, but we are not a full profit company. We gather information from poor communities and poor households.

"In that way, we are able to evaluate government programmes. Often, you would get a tender or a request being put out to do an evaluation of an early development programme or a home-based care programme."

"You would get multi-national firms, who are based in Europe, who would tender to evaluate the home-based care programme."

"They would be an auditing firm and the basis of their evaluation would purely be on how much money was spent and where the services were delivered.

"A real understanding of what happens in poor households is best done by organisations that are rooted in communities, which understand the way they work. We should reflect on which consultants are needed and which ones are good."

Consulting Engineer South Africa's Wally Mayne said government needed consultants.

"We need to categorise consultants because everybody has kind of condemned consultants under one umbrella.

"If you think about it, lawyers and accountants are professional consultants but they are actually not referred to as consultants. But engineers in the building industry, like architects and quantity surveyors, we are lumped with consultants. Yet we deliver a valuable service. Without us, government couldn't achieve the building infrastructure and so forth. They genuinely do not have those skills."