IT consultants cost prisons millions

880

The Department of Correctional Services (DCS) has spent a fortune on IT consultants, and it still has no strategy in place to decrease its dependence on these consultants. The auditor-general’s Draft Management Report reveals that in the period between April 2007 and March 2009, the prisons service spent R203.4 million on consultants.

Democratic Alliance prisons shadow minister James Selfe says this is only a draft report and so it is possible that some of the information is inaccurate, ITWeb reports. “However, if even a fraction of what is contained in the report is accurate, it is a shocking indictment of the administrative ineptitude of the DCS.”

DCS spokesperson Manelisi Wolela says it is premature to discuss this information now since management must still give its response to the AG’s observations and only then can a final report be given. He gives no indication as to whether the figures are correct and says the final report can be expected within a week.
“We await the comments of the department, which will be given to the AG. The AG will then present a final report to Parliament. However, I know enough about the use of consultants in the DCS to know that the story is substantially true,” says Selfe. The report found that the department is dependent on consultants because of large numbers of vacancies, particularly among skilled workers, according to Selfe.
“Accordingly, in some directorates – chiefly those dealing with information technology – the number of consultants outnumbered the DCS officials, in one case by 83 to nine. Many of the consultants are IT consultants, and that’s where the worst ratios of consultant to official occur. But there are transactional advisers, trainers and communication consultants on the list as well, as is the Special Investigating Unit (SIU).”

He adds that some of the consultants were clearly necessary and delivered valuable services, but others were there for work that the DCS should have been doing on its own. He says the report also found there were “substantial fruitless and wasted expenditure in services that were substandard, or not delivered at all”.

In terms of some of the ‘unnecessary’ services that consultants provide, Selfe says that again, the biggest culprit is IT services. He adds that the valuable services provided by consultants deal with the SIU investigation and audit assistance. Apart from the large number of consultants working at the DCS, the report also found some have been at the department for extended periods of time. “One consultant had been employed by the DCS for more than 16 years, and nine have been there for more than 11 years,” says Selfe.
“The report also found that in many cases treasury regulations and supply chain management policies were ignored, in some cases so recklessly that it borders on fraud,” notes Selfe. He explains that at this stage all that has been detected is fruitless and wasteful expenditure. “However, particularly on the training consultancy, there was an inexplicable wastage that looks very suspicious. We will have to probe this when it comes to Scopa [Standing Committee on Public Accounts].”

Selfe says the report found the DCS has overpaid consultants, in one case, by 81.75% in the 2008/9 financial year. “In another case, a contract awarded for the training of DCS managers was delivered, but the accommodation and meal costs (at the Burgerspark Hotel) exceeded its budget by R9.7 million. In another case, there was no proof that DCS officials attended training courses for which consultants were paid.”

Despite these findings, Selfe says the DCS has no strategy in place to correct the situation. “The DCS has no strategy or policy in place to reduce its dependency on consultants, and very little skills transfer takes place to enable the department to perform the functions performed by consultants, by itself.”



He adds that the DCS must attack the problem at its root. It must appoint and retain the staff it needs to perform its core functions, in addition to developing and implementing a strategy to systematically reduce its dependency on consultants, one that is measurable and time-bound.
“It is very clear that the DCS has a serious case to answer. Together with my colleagues on Scopa, we will pursue this matter, and if irregularities or fraud was committed, we will ensure the minister and officials are held to account.”