National and provincial government owe SMMEs a staggering R444 billion in unsettled invoices for the first quarter of 2022, according to Public Service Commission (PSC). The PSC has again called for accounting officers to be held responsible and punished for SMME bills not being settled. The commission is tasked with investigating, monitoring and evaluating the organisation and administration of the public service. The figures were revealed in its quarterly bulletin from 1 January to 31 March this year.
A total of R84,808,622 is owed by national departments, and R173,980,558,482 is owed to SMMEs by provincial governments. According to the report, the Environment, Forestry and Fisheries Department owes the most, at R67,206,967. The Eastern Cape owes SMMEs a whopping R3,044,396,090 in unsettled invoices. PSC commissioner Andile Gxoyiya told Vutivi News that this state of affairs was unacceptable during a press briefing this week.
He placed the blame squarely at the feet of corrupt accounting officers. “Our own observation as the PSC is that the non-payment of service providers is sheer mischief from some accounting officers,” said Gxoyiya. “You will find that in some instances, SMMEs submit their invoices and go through the entire process, and some of these individuals (accounting officers) call these poor SMMEs and say ‘I have received your invoice, what do you have for me?’.”
The commissioner said corruption was rampant throughout the government. “They even want a share of the R50,000 payment and want something to process that payment, and that is how deeply entrenched the corruption is,” he said. When asked what the PSC recommended as a remedy, Gxoyiya said that the accounting officers must be held accountable.
“We recommend that stern action should be taken,” he said. “Accounting officers must know what is happening in their department. You can’t have an accounting officer who says that he does not know where an invoice is. “When someone enquires from the accounting officer, it is the accounting officer’s duty to go and look for the invoice and know where it is.” Gxoyiya also said that executive authorities should exercise their power and act against those who hampered their political vision.
“The accounting officers must take the fall for these unpaid invoices and unless action is taken, this level of corruption will continue,” he warned. “It should be reported that such an invoice was not paid, and it is because of such an accounting officer and this is what was done to that accounting officer.” The government is meant to pay SMMEs within 30 days.
The PSC reports say that the late or non-submission of exception reports to the National Treasury the due date, and non-compliance with the 30-day payment provision of the Public Finance Management Act, show the lack of effective internal control systems and consequence management by departments and provinces.
“This also shows a total disregard for the President’s directive of November 2019 at the SA Investment Conference that organs of state should be closely monitored on their performance on 30-day payment and that any non-compliance should be viewed as financial misconduct. The PFMA has enjoined Accounting Officers to enforce accountability,” it reads.