Building an Effective Transparency Engine for South African Tenders

Gray engine bay

On 15 September 2022, the Daily Maverick published a post on the reforms that are drastically needed for public procurement in South Africa.

The Daily Maverick’s piece nicely summarises issues faced within our public procurement space: political interference, deficits at both regulatory and operational levels, fragmented regulatory regimes, procurement procedures plagued with integrity overlays, and inconsistent mandates applied to regulation and general objectives of public procurement.

Former National Treasury chief procurement officer Kenneth Brown made an excellent argument on the procurement crisis about how the “archaic, paper-based” system keeps South Africa’s procurement processes in constant flux. A few of the reasons Bidsstack exists are due to this realisation.

This blog post will focus on one of those issues from the Zondo report, which is the enhancement of transparency. We believe that once implemented, it will act as a north star for all the other changes we need.

How important is transparency?

Transparency is one of the five principles the South African Constitution requires organ states to uphold, the remaining are fairness, equitability, competitiveness and cost-effectiveness.

What’s lacking is a formal definition of transparency, it is taken at face value that everyone understands what the word means.

Transparency includes actors within a system having visibility into how the system functions. This implies openness, communication and accountability of actions.

Building such a system is both profoundly hard to implement and even harder to maintain. The reason for this is due to a fascinating aspect of humans, where we tend to have high degrees of overconfidence that certain rules don’t apply to us; put another way, we tend to believe we are more confident than others.

How to mitigate the risk of transparency?

The solution to this human aspect is to move the responsibility to computer-based systems instead of human-based systems.

Unlike human-based systems, computer-based systems tend not to suffer from the overconfidence bias humans have, they are simply machines that follow a set of instructions.

For the last sixty years, humanity has been building a number of different computer systems, and in that time span, we have also learned how to harness their power(s).

How are we transparent?

One of the computer-based systems we have in mind is a database. A database is an organised collection of structured information, typically stored in a computer-based system.

Our Web App already makes use of a number of different types of databases to store information, we make that information accessible to visitors on our site. Unlike most sites, we don’t present a paywall to our visitors or make use of ads to keep the site running.

We will keep the site running by charging money for the value we create for our customers, this will be in the form of products and services, such as NotifyPlus.

Getting paid for our products and services holds us accountable to our customers – we will easily know when we are doing a good or a bad job, our customers will tell us either through communicating it directly or cancelling their subscriptions.

We are certain that building excellent services and products for our customers solves a number of other problems that we will face down the line. This is our main focus in building Bidsstack, the rest will follow suit.