When the State is both boss and client


DOING business with government departments and agencies appears to be one sure means to success for some locally-owned small to medium enterprises.
In order to do business with such clients one has to have the right connections in the public service, which is a no-brainer for any businessman in any business environment.
However, while some of these entrepreneurs can be commended for their success and the quality of services provided to improve state agencies, there are a few who have used such connections to make easy money in selfish, dubious ways.
On the other hand, those in charge of government accounts pay even for sub-standard services and products, write those bad accounts off and look forward to the following budget cycle.
They have no profit-or-loss statement to compile, no board of directors to report to.
It is a one-way street of receiving budgetary allocations and spending within a financial year.
Sadly, the cycle of misspending and double-dipping is allowed to go on year after year if nothing is said or done.
In some of the worst cases, companies supplying goods and services to the government agencies are owned or managed by senior public servants who are in positions to influence contract decisions.
They continue getting paid while their companies are also paid by the same government.
Some business deals of this nature are ‘open secrets’ and go on as if the concerned public servants have no qualms over conflicts of interest or double-dipping.
These business transactions activities are possibly going on under the radar of established procurement processes because of the amounts involved.
But add those small amounts in invoices posted to government agency accounts sections in the course of one financial year and the sum could be quite staggering.
These activities have gone on for years even with the full knowledge of those who should and can put a stop the cycle but fail to.
And for failing their duty they are equally blameworthy of wrongdoing.
Public servants who use their positions and award contracts to businesses they own or manage are not doing the right thing by any means whatsoever. The sensible thing to do is to resign their public service jobs and concentrate on running businesses.
One such alleged incident of double-dipping was brought up by a member of parliament recently as reported by this paper last week.
Apparently, certain senior officers within the Department of Labour and Industrial Relations had been doing business with a supplier of information and communication technology services they themselves manage.
A complaint was raised and a detailed investigation was done.
The National Fraud and Anti-Corruption Directorate is aware of it but has been slow to act on it and it has reached a stage where the prime minister had to call for action on the report.
This is the kind of business transaction that should never be allowed to happen, not by senior public servants who have sworn on oath to serve the country. But alas, in the thinking of some public servants who are being paid out of the public purse it is ‘business as usual’ to also do business with their paymaster without declaring their interests openly.
It gets worse when a company signs a contract with the state agencies but do not deliver accordingly or provide sub-standard goods or services.
It is not only double-dipping on the part of the public servants involved but gives rise to unfair competition to other companies or businesses who are better
qualified, a lot more competent and can provide better quality services.
What a difference it would
make if all who do business with government agencies also believed in improving public services ultimately.