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By Ryan Brunette, Jonathan Klaaren and Patronella Nqaba

As South Africa contemplates another episode of public procurement legal reform, we trace the post-apartheid history of such efforts and consider critical issues moving forward. South Africa has over the last few decades followed the international trend of an expanding ‘contract state’. Public procurement is increasingly important to state operational and allocative concerns. South Africa’s public procurement regime is progressively configured into a centrally steered but decentralised organisational form. Inflected through domestic public procurement politics, however, the development of this organisational form has been truncated, with the establishment of only limited central steering capacity producing a public procurement regulatory regime which is weak, fragmented and incoherent, contributing to problems of state incapacity and corruption. In 2013 South Africa’s Minister of Finance announced a major push to reform South Africa’s contract state. The effort aims to better establish, locate and extend public procurement regulatory authority. It has begun to elaborate a centre-led, strategic and increasingly developmental procurement methodology. It is moving towards more flexibility, effectively an attempt to reduce rigidity in rules while building more robust and distributed disciplinary mechanisms, ones which take account of deficits in regulatory capacity and political will. We consider the potentials and pitfalls of these movements and suggest ways to optimise them.

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