Enjoying some well-deserved downtime the other day I treated myself to a little couch surfing and channel hopping. It’s hard to believe how tough it is finding something worth watching now days. Surprisingly I ended up on a local derivative of a show I had seen on one of the BBC channels, called Dragons Den. In brief, what happens is people pitch their idea or invention to a panel of extremely well off and successful individuals, trying to convince them to invest their own money in the particular idea. Supposedly as the “dragons” are successful business people they would have a lot more to offer than just a big wad of cash and could potentially make a significant contribution towards the success of the proposed venture.
The show itself is nothing special, but curiosity about who the South African dragons might be had me stuck on the channel just long enough to see a bid, and a response from one of the local dragons that shocked me. Polo Radebe not only accused an applicant of being a “tenderpreneur”, but followed it up with a phrase suggesting that it is not necessarily a negative thing to be a tenderpreneur in this country.
Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, the topic did not linger there and swiftly moved along, but for me the damage had already been done. I thought perhaps I had misunderstood and the concept of tenderpreneurship might not be what I had deduced it to be at all. My understanding of a tenderpreneur is someone who browses the government tender mill, looking for an opportunity and submitting multiple easy win bids, and then illegally gaining favour and ultimately winning these bids, even though they have no idea how to deliver on what was proposed. Ultimately the money is stolen, even though a “proper” bid process was followed but there is no delivery, or at best a sub-standard delivery, of the services originally bid for. For example, a baker would see a bid for a million t-shirts required for a government rally. The baker knows nothing about t-shirts but decides to bid for the work by undercutting the price for a million t-shirts, effectively eliminating legitimate competition, and by leveraging their influence and relationships to secure the bid. The baker wins the bid over a few t-shirt companies who worked their hardest to ensure that they have the capacity to deliver on their promises and to submit a legitimate bid. Now the baker does not know the first thing about t-shirts. He’s only option is to approach one of the original t-shirt companies who lost the bid to try and help deliver as promised. However now at a much lower budget as the price has already been set in his bid as low as possible to win the bid in the first place, and of course they still have to take their cut as well. Now he sub contracts one of the original bidders at half the rate that they initially bid for the project, and obviously delivery and quality are jeopardised as a result. When something goes wrong fingers are pointed at the t-shirt manufacture who was sub contracted to deliver the million t-shirts, but the only one that wins is the tenderpreneur sitting in the middle counting his cut.
The fact that this process exists is a fundamental flaw in our government process in my opinion. I always believed that the tender process was specifically developed to ensure a fair process whereby the best candidate for a specific job is awarded the contract, ensuring quality deliverables, and through the tender process also confirming that this is done in a fair and competitive manner. In this country this process has failed so miserably that we are in fact blasé about the whole debacle and we see the results of it almost every day in the form of sub-standard delivery, or in fact a complete lack of delivery, whilst no-one is held accountable.
As bitter as all this might seem to a legitimate South African business man, imagine what I felt when a prominent and successful South African business personality actually encouraged this practise. I know many legitimate business people that struggle considerably to maintain their morality and a successful business; however our government is making this impossible in South Africa. We live in an environment where if you are not prepared to be corrupted in some way the only option is for you to go broke and close your doors as someone more willing to play the corruption game will simply take your potential business away.
I have often sat with acquaintances and laughed (and cried) about the state of affairs. Things like a R 40 mil web site for the Freestate, that could not be justified by any stretch of the imagination, and of course our now old favourite, Nkandlagate. How could we not become despondent when we see our future security circling the drain of our country, only to be pumped into some corrupt official’s back pocket? What happens when there is no more blood to squeeze from the stone?
I try to be optimistic, but anyone who realistically ponders the future of our country, the way things are going now, cannot help but be despondent. The examples we set our children are corrupt. The lessons we teach our young ones are of discrimination, disrespect and dishonesty. The number of pending cases involving government officials is simply outrageous. But why should anyone care when our president has set the president (forgive the pun) that dishonesty pays and there is no accountability even when you do get caught with your hand in the proverbial cookie jar.
Have we crossed the line into a psychotic society, where our youth can no longer distinguish between right and wrong? Are the last few honest business people in this country a dying conscience being drowned out by the greedy and the corrupt? Our “leaders” are setting examples of indifference to the important matters of state while they squabble about their own egos and next self-enrichment scheme, and now even our television programs are condoning the idea that taking advantage of a corrupt process is a perfectly natural thing to do in South Africa, in fact it is the preferred way of getting things done. Are we, at this point, beyond any hope?