THE Eastern Cape government has spent a staggering R8.5-billion on consultants over the past three years. Finance MEC Phumulo Masualle’s shock admission, which comes as more than 70% of the province’s budget has already been dedicated to salaries, follows his statement in March that the Eastern Cape was battling a bloated administration.

He said the provincial government had a “top-heavy organisational structure with too little capacity at points of delivery”.

Responding to questions raised by DA provincial legislature leader Bobby Stevenson two weeks ago, Masualle said the expenditure on consultants, contractors and outsourced services was R2.891-billion in 2010, R3.076-billion last year and R2.695-billion this year.

The amount budgeted for consultants for the 2012-13 financial year was R1.229-billion.

The DA blasted the expenditure, saying consultants were operating parallel to civil servants because the various government departments already had the staff who should do the work but lacked the skills to deliver.

“These latest figures are a further sign of how governance is increasingly being outsourced due to a lack of internal capacity within departments to deliver,” Stevenson said.

“This is a direct result of the failed cadre deployment policy.

“The spending on consultants must be seen in the context of departments paying for bloated administrations without prioritising the skills to deliver.

“The Eastern Cape cannot afford a parallel civil service,” he said.

The biggest spender on consultants was the Health Department, with R3.282-billion spent over the past three years. It was followed by Public Works, which spent R1.927-billion.

“The DA will use upcoming committee meetings on government annual reports to probe departments on the exact details of which companies were paid and for what service,” Stevenson said.

“We will request information on whether any skills transfer took place from consultants to the permanent staff of each department as required by Treasury regulations.

“I am sceptical that government will stick to the budget of R1.229-billion for consultants in the 2012-13 year given the record over the last three years.

“To achieve effective governance in the East Cape, we need a skilled public service that does not require us to waste billions on unnecessary consultant fees.”

Public Service Accountability Monitor (PSAM) head Jay Kruuse said the use of consultants when government staff had been appointed to do the work amounted to fruitless and wasteful expenditure.

“Clearly, there is a duplication of functions and when you have staff that are already appointed to render the function, it’s a double blow,” Kruuse said.

“The provincial government has a long track record of outsourcing work, but the work is not monitored.

“For instance, audit firms are hired to audit the various departments and some give poor audit work, which leads to fruitless and wasteful expenditure.

“Government should only outsource the work if there is no in-house expertise, especially if it is the core business of the department,” he said.