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Tackling tender transparency

What’s happened to the government’s Tender Bulletin?

By Angelique Ruzicka

, |

Tackling tender transparency

What’s happened to the government’s Tender Bulletin?

By Angelique Ruzicka

, |

4 min read

In January, the Government Printing Works (GPW) published its last Tender Bulletin before announcing that the GPW was experiencing technical difficulties.

It then created an online tender portal: etenders.gov.za, but this itself was also seemingly experiencing technical difficulties. According to the Daily Maverick this had started in March this year and users were instead directed to a temporary site on the National Treasury’s home page. However, the government has since then fixed the etenders. gov.za portal and it’s once again up and running. But how well does it compare to the features and services offered by the original GPW’s Tender Bulletin?

What is the Treasury’s tender portal?

Tenders of all types are advertised on the website etenders.gov.za and members of the public and the industry can view advertised tenders, awarded tenders, cancelled tenders and ones that are closed.

The categories of advertised tenders vary from electrical, civil engineering, security, and investigations, to construction, disposals and ‘general’. A tender description is given, the date advertised is noted and there’s also a column for the closing date for submissions.

How does this compare to the Tender Bulletin?

When initially compared to the government’s Tender Bulletin, the etenders website appears to be a more functional, modern way of advertising tenders. The last Tender Bulletin of 2021, which was published on 29 January, consisted of 93 pages of PDF copy highlighting various tenders.

However, some argue that the Tender Bulletin was far more comprehensive. For example, besides the tender descriptions, other details included the amount awarded, who the tender was awarded to, the closing date, the amount awarded, the company’s B-BEEE level and the B-BEEE points they obtained.

‘I am glad to see you can see who has been awarded tenders on etenders, but it doesn’t seem to be thorough. But I just have a gut feeling that it’s not ‘the oracle’. The Tender Bulletin used to be ‘the oracle’.

‘I was always confident that things were covered, and that due diligence had been done by government. But with etenders I don’t get that feeling,’ laments Catherine Townsend operations director at TenderServices.

Fewer advertised tenders?

At the time of writing there are 1,523 entries under the ‘currently advertised tenders’ list. But Townsend maintains that it still feels sparse.

She highlights an example. ‘I remember how the Department of Correctional Services used to do everything by the book and used to use the Tender Bulletin at length. I can’t prove that etenders is not reliable but it’s highly suspicious when you see something like Correctional Services with only seven procurement plans and it’s only small jobs that are listed.’ She adds: ‘If etenders is not being treated like the central database then we have a problem. We can’t have the whole country’s tenders going in various directions.

‘If someone says they advertised a tender and it’s been awarded, then the other people who have sent through their tender applications need to feel it’s been advertised fairly. If it went on etenders in a way that was confusing or put on a very fringe website that no one looks at then that’s suspicious.’

No response from Treasury

Estate Living emailed Treasury initially on 14 October just after 1pm. We were invited to submit questions again to the generic Treasury email address on 18 October.

It promised a response to our questions within 24-48 hours but, at the time of writing, had not submitted a response to our questions which included verifying whether the Tender Bulletin would be replaced with the etender website.

When Estate Living approached opposition party the Democratic Alliance (DA) a spokesperson acknowledged that the government had been talking about “central procurement” for some time.

The DA had submitted parliamentary questions about the Tender Bulletin in August this year but, to date, had not had a response from Treasury. The spokesperson added: ‘My understanding is that there’s a technical problem with the publication. I don’t have any details and am waiting for a reply to this.’

Finding clarity?

When asked how long the government had experienced difficulties with the Tender Bulletin, Treasury responded: ‘National Treasury received formal communique from the Government Printing Works (GPW), dated 15 February 2021, indicating that it (GPW) had run into technical difficulties from the 4th of February 2021, which made it difficult for it to adhere to its mandate of advertising bid invitations and bid awards submitted by institutions in the Government Tender Bulletin.’

For now, it’s up in the air whether industry will gain access to a comprehensive centralised procurement platform soon. With tender fraud ongoing, the DA and experts like Townsend call into question the usefulness of the substitute (etenders), which is currently on offer.

Townsend adds: ‘etenders could be this [substitute] but it isn’t. If there’s missing information, I don’t trust that it’s thorough. If they are getting all the tenders, then my business would be outmoded quite quickly.

‘So, while it’s frustrating that they are doing a shoddy job, then it does mean good business for me. But that also means people will have to look at other sites for tenders because etenders doesn’t seem to get them or, if they do, they appear to get them slowly.’

When asked if etenders.gov.za was a temporary stopgap, Treasury responded: ‘The eTenders site is a permanent portal that was introduced in 2015 for the publication of tender opportunities online and it has been operating in parallel with the Tender Bulletin. The Tender Bulletin will continue until there is a need to change the Treasury regulations.’

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