Are you witnessing corruption but don’t know what to do about it? Ask the team of Corruption Watch experts what to do by writing to: email@example.com and mark your letter ‘Dear Corruption Watch’.
I run a small service business that has, from time to time, tendered for government contracts. I am a black woman with a professional and capable team and believe that my company scores well in respect of all the "boxes" that need to be ticked.
We recently submitted a proposal and were shortlisted for the contract, but it went to one of my competitors. I made enquiries to see where they scored better than we did and was surprised to learn that though we had fairly identical rankings, they would be billing five times the amount I had proposed.
Needless to say I wondered if there wasn't something fishy going on.
The tender took quite a bit of time to prepare and if government contracts are just going to be rewarded only to "friends and family", I see no reason to waste my time. But it is a lucrative source of income for me. What should I do? How can I know if it was corruption or the "best man" for the job securing the work? And where can I report my suspicions? – Yours sincerely, Better value for money
Dear Better Value
Unfortunately, your story is not unusual. Government procurement is one of the areas of public life where corruption is most rife, and tales of irregular tenders abound.
It sounds as though you have good reason to be suspicious.
Though it depends on the size of the contract and the nature of the service provided, the two most important factors to be considered by organs of state when they assess bids for the procurement of goods and services are price and functionality. The third factor is whether the bidder is a historically disadvantaged South African.
From what you say, you are a black woman, whose company would have been able to fulfil the requirements of the tender. You should therefore have scored well on functionality and empowerment. If the final cost of the tender was five times what your company would have charged to provide the same service, there was almost certainly some kind of irregularity in the award.
It does not sound as though you have any concrete evidence of the irregularity, so at this stage laying a charge with the police or reporting the matter to enforcement authorities may be premature. However, the facts you have described would most likely warrant an investigation by the Public Protector, and you can report the matter directly to her office. You should also report the matter to Corruption Watch, using our website.
However, if you want to take immediate action in your own name, you will need more information. You have two options here.
First, you could make an application in terms of the Promotion of Access to Information Act, 2000 to the government department for all of the information regarding the tender, including the tender documents submitted by the successful tenderer and the agreement concluded between it and the department.
Second, if you are more confident of the information you currently have, you could consider going to court to review the award of the tender. Once you bring a review, the rules of court entitle you to the record of decision, which should contain all of the information you need.
I'm afraid neither route will be very quick, and both require obtaining legal representation. But it is important for you not simply to roll over – these legal mechanisms exist so that we citizens can hold government to account. If the evidence is as strong as you suggest, you have good prospects of prevailing in the end.
Take a stand and report an incident of corruption. This article originally appeared in the Sunday Times Business Times on 26 February 2012.