In 2018, South Africa was shaken by a series of allegations relating to large and widespread corruption throughout the country. Given the huge sums associated with infrastructure contracts, it is an area which is particularly susceptible to interference in the tender process: in South Africa, state firms such as Eskom and Transnet – both responsible for delivering the country’s infrastructure investments – were no exception. In 2019 two former managers at Eskom, the country’s power firm, were arrested for alleged corruption and fraud worth 745m rand (US $51m) relating to contract manipulation.
Against this backdrop, CoST commissioned a scoping study into the level of transparency, accountability and stakeholder participation in the delivery of public infrastructure, with a view to ascertaining the added value of CoST in South Africa. The scoping study, which was delivered by the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) and the Open Democracy Advice Centre (ODAC), was carried out through desk-based research and interviews with figures from the government, private sector and civil society. It aimed to identify a number of factors, including:
- How transparency and accountability around public improvement needs to be improved
- Attitudes towards transparency and accountability amongst the government, private sector and civil society
- How the CoST approach to transparency and accountability and its core features of disclosure, assurance, multi-stakeholder working, and social accountability can add value to current systems for procuring and delivering infrastructure.
Key findings and recommendations
The scoping study showed real appetite for change amongst interviewees, and CoST as a practical, systematic platform to deliver this change through increased transparency and accountability. The core feature of multi-stakeholder working for instance, has potential to restore the mutual trust and cooperation between public and private sectors which recent scandals have eroded.
The study also revealed significant gaps in existing transparency mechanisms, underscored by a confusion amongst interviewees around the information currently required to be disclosed. However, private sector interviewees welcomed those instances where procuring entities have begun to disclose more information – whether reactively or proactively – which has enhanced the integrity of the procurement process. Adopting and implementing the CoST Infrastructure Data Standard (CoST IDS) offers the prospect of strengthening understanding and trust between sectors and delivering more consistent performance.
Given the appetite for change amongst key players from the government, industry and civil society, the scoping study concludes that CoST is a valuable approach to tackling issues around public procurement in South Africa. Specifically, the study recommends that the CoST model is piloted to assess its practical value, the CoST IDS is incorporated into procurement legislation and that steps take are taken to strengthen legislation around access to information.
Going forward, CoST will continue to engage with key stakeholders in pursuit of enhancing infrastructure transparency in South Africa.