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A Strategic Public Procurement Paradigm for South Africa: Reflections on the development of the Public Procurement Bill

South Africa’s public procurement regime, established in the context of public sector reform initiatives of the late 1990s and early 2000s, requires reform. The drafting process for new public procurement legislation has been a long and winding one, and much of it has taken place beyond public scrutiny. In 2022 a revised version of the 2020 Public Procurement Bill was introduced into the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac). The deliberations in Nedlac were attended, at the request of business and labour, by a small number of individuals and organisations with expertise in public procurement. At the request of Nedlac social partners (business and labour), this group of individuals and organisations were formalised to provide technical expertise on the Bill and styled as a Joint Strategic Resource (JSR), coordinated by the Public Affairs Research Institute (PARI), and including the African Procurement Law Unit (APLU), the Wits School of Construction Economics and Management, and Corruption Watch. This paper explains the strategic procurement paradigm that underpins the JSR Draft of the Bill. We argue that the JSR Bill demonstrates that strategic procurement is appropriate to the South African context for adoption and implementation as the key concept in a comprehensive public procurement statute.

We worked for a statute that would provide for public procurement which is developmental in economic nature and outlook, aspiring to expand the productive base of the economy and to support innovation and investment. This meant that preferential procurement policies (including local content) were part and parcel of the statute. The legal architecture of the National Treasury Public Procurement Bill of 2022 contains little hope of moving away from a repetition of the lack of success of the earlier generations of regulatory instruments in this field. We argue this is not so much the fault of OCPO drafting, but rather of the fundamental choice not to exercise through Parliament the policy making power of the state to adopt, promulgate, and enforce a comprehensive public procurement statute. The Bill should itself contain clear and accessible substantive policy choices in this area and not delegate and allow for such decisions to be taken (or fail to be taken) in the sub-units of National Treasury.