National Treasury’s centralised eTender portal crashes

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National Treasury’s centralised eTender portal has crashed, with no indication as to when the system will be restored.

This follows problems with the Government Printing Works’ eGazette publishing system, which has resulted in the National Tender Bulletin going unpublished since January.

With the National Tender Bulletin in limbo, many government departments and entities turned to the Web-based eTender portal to advertise their tenders.

This enabled them to comply with financial management regulations that require that tenders with an expected value of over R500 000 be advertised in the National Tender Bulletin to enable fair market access to high-value tenders as well as ensuring the public sector benefits from a competitive bidding process.

In recent years, National Treasury has added numerous directives to improve the transparency in government procurement processes in an effort to combat widespread corruption in the public sector.

These problems couldn’t have come at a worse time for president Cyril Ramaphosa’s leadership as investigations into – and prosecution of – shady personal protective equipment deals remain top of mind for the public.

With both channels down though, government departments and organisations are now only required to advertise new tenders on their respective Web sites, or in appropriate media, says National Treasury.

“The suppliers should visit/check the Web sites of organs of state and also newspapers for potential tender opportunities,” it added.

The South African government Web site lists 45 national departments in addition to the Presidency, as well as nine judiciary institutions, 12 independent constitutional bodies and 129 state-owned enterprises and other public entities. When considering provincial and local government, this number grows significantly. Most of these have their own Web sites.

Year-end rush

This is commonly a very busy period for public sector procurement as organisations race to spend any remaining funds before the financial year comes to a close on 31 March. This “use it or lose it” approach sees tender decisions that have been long outstanding being concluded and new purchases rushed through the procurement process.

For organisations that do not have funds in reserve, this is the period they start with advertisement of requirements that have had to be put on hold while waiting for the new budget allocation on 1 April.

In the meantime, the auditor-general is preparing to audit government’s financial results for the 2020/21 financial year. One of the key areas that is always considered is adherence to legislated and advised procurement processes. Qualified audits referring to fruitless and wasteful expenditure are common.

The current situation with the proper advertising of tenders will no doubt have an impact on the assessments.

When asked specifically what impact it would have on the annual review, National Treasury responded: “The auditor-general has been informed of the challenges and these will be taken into consideration during audits.”

As for the problems with the eTender portal, National Treasury says the ICT server infrastructure that hosts the portal suffered a crash caused by technical failures.

“This resulted in data corruption leading to unavailability of the site,” it revealed. “We are unable to provide a fixed date, but the technical teams are working on alternative solutions.”

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