Brown confident Treasury will not fall
Kenneth Brown says he leaves the office of chief procurement officer in the Treasury at the end of this month without any fear that the vacancy would open the door to a form of capture.
He says this is because he has confidence in Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan to manage the upcoming changes with maturity.
Brown (54) told City Press in an interview on Thursday that the leaders in the Treasury were highly skilled people with integrity, who were “not easily swayed”.
“So I am really confident that whoever will succeed me on a permanent basis will be properly screened and will not have the leeway to create problems.”
Brown’s exit came during a difficult time for the Treasury, as uncertainty loomed over Gordhan’s future, who was not seen to be President Jacob Zuma’s first choice for the post.
Gordhan, trusted by business, was also the subject of an investigation by the Hawks related to the alleged “rogue” unit at the revenue services during his tenure as commissioner.
The Treasury was also under pressure from those who claimed to be proponents of transformation based on allegations that the policies it championed, like the Preferential Procurement Policy Framework Act and the Financial Intelligence Centre amendment, choked black economic empowerment. Brown – also seen to have been Gordhan’s right-hand man – said the Treasury was a very robust institution.
“I do not think my departure creates turbulence. What is important is not to personalise things according to the individual.
“There are people all over government who actually want to do the right thing.” He said Treasury had created an avenue for civil society “to get involved in our work”.
“So we want South Africans to have a greater voice in what happens in the country and how their tax monies get spent. Civil society needs to take responsibility because you cannot leave it to an individual or a small group of individuals”.
He said that what has helped Treasury over the years have been the efforts to be apolitical, as far as possible. “Our job is not to be in the political space. We need to be conscious of the political environment in which we operate, but we never play”. He said Treasury’s job was “purely technical”. “Measures that we put in place are technical stuff. If it so happens that a certain group of politicians or people do not benefit, that is unfortunate reality. The intention is not to target politicians and politics. It is to make sure that the system functions properly.”
He also credited the political leadership of Treasury for allowing it to function independently.
He said he had worked with all ministers except Des van Rooyen, because “he was on holiday last December”, when Zuma had appointed Van Rooyen for four days.
He said the reason procurement in government had come to be seen as a cash cow was due to government’s failure to modernise the system when it introduced both the Public Finance Management Act and the Municipal Finance Management Act – partly with a view to decentralise authority. “Had we done that, the picture certainly would have been different”.
Also, he said, government never saw supply chain as a strategic function.
“If you think about it, budgets get approved and you get strategic plans, and delivery must happen. What is it that makes delivery happen? It is supply chain. If water is not delivered on time, it is a supply chain failure.”
Brown said it was “important to change the culture of SA to realise that there are taxpayers who work hard for their money.
“The least that they expect is that their money must be spent properly.”
Brown joined Treasury as a former teacher in 1997 and leaves at the end of this month with a Master of Science degree in public policy, after Treasury arranged funds through the Nelson Mandela scholarship for him to study at the University of Illinois in the US.
In the 19 years Brown spent at the Treasury he has been deputy director, then director, then chief director, then deputy director-general and recently the chief procurement officer.