The Covid-19 virus has presented various challenges for aspects of commercial practice both on a national and on a global scale. South Africa in particular, has seen many of its businesses in both the public and private sector deviate from their ordinary policies and processes as a response to the Covid-19 pandemic. These deviations have, for the most part, been contextual, with each, business, organisation or entity having to adopt its own unique Covid-19 survival strategy.
Similarly to private business and organisations, in an attempt to survive the pandemic, South Africa has had to adopt drastic measures, including the loosening of restrictions in certain industries and the tightening of restrictions in others. As part of South Africa’s wide-ranging measures to limit the spread of the virus, consideration had to be given to the potential threat which could be posed by persons entering South Africa illegally, particularly those individuals entering South Africa through the Beitbridge border.
Situated across the northern plains of the Limpopo River, the Beitbridge border town is a border post and bridge that separates Zimbabwe from South Africa. The Beitbridge is infamous for being occasionally utilised for unauthorised border crossings by individuals wishing to reach South Africa in the hope of a better life. With the announcement of the national lockdown in South Africa, it became of paramount importance to ensure the closure of international borders enabling access into the South African territory. To this effect the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure was mandated to oversee the erection and repairs of the Beitbridge border fence.
The Department stated that it invoked the emergency procurement procedures as issued by the National Treasury and the Disaster Management Act No 57 of 2002 to appoint a contractor to effect the erection and upgrades of the fence at a cost of approximately R37 million. A few months following the appointment of the contractor, the contractor’s work is under scrutiny as holes have begun appearing on the fence with the number of illegal entries into South Africa is continuing if not increasing by the day.
The quality of the fence and value for money spent on the appointment of the contractor are currently the subject of interrogation. Consequently, the Department’s anti-corruption investigators and Special Investigating Unit are conducting an inquiry into the procurement process followed by the Department in appointing a contractor to erect and repair the Beitbridge fence, and all payments to the contractor have been suspended pending finalisation of the investigation.
Impropriety in public procurement is not an unfamiliar concept in South Africa as news headlines and television screens constantly stream with updates of scandals involving public and private sector procurement, particularly flawed tender processes. Procurement of the repairs and erection of the Beitbridge fence is the latest of many procurement projects in South Africa which have become the subject of public scrutiny. Private sector organisations and government entities must also thoroughly understand the law governing public procurement in South Africa, particularly under the laws imposed as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.
While the need for deviation from certain processes due to Covid-19 is justifiable, businesses and institutions of government must still ensure adherence to the Covid-19 rules and policies set in place by their specific industries. To this effect organisations must not use Covid 19 as an excuse to not follow applicable procedures in their respective industries.
Part 2 of this blog will discuss emergency public procurement measures which have been put in place by the National Treasury in light of the Covid 19 pandemic. Be sure to watch this space!