BUSINESS LIVE - BOTTOM LINE / 10 MARCH 2022 - 15:28 / PIETER STEYN
The invalidity of all the regulations under the procurement act causes serious uncertainty
In September 2020 the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) declared that the preferential procurement regulations issued by the finance minister in 2017 were invalid. The minister appealed against this decision to the Constitutional Court, which upheld the SCA decision in a judgment handed down on February 16 2022.
The Constitutional Court. Picture: JAMES OATWAY
The regulations were issued in terms of the Preferential Procurement Policy Framework Act (PPPFA) and allowed governmental, parastatal and state-owned entities to disqualify tenderers upfront (without first considering their tender price and other conditions) if they did not comply with the following pre-qualification criteria:
Having a stipulated minimum broad-based BEE (BBBEE) rating;
Being an exempted micro-enterprise or qualifying small enterprise. The former is a firm with annual revenue of R10m or less and the latter a firm with annual revenue of between R10m and R50m;
Subcontracting at least 30% of the tender to a micro or qualifying small enterprise that is at least 51% owned by black people, black youth, black women, black people with disabilities, black people living in rural or underdeveloped areas or townships, or black people who are military veterans.
The PPPFA provides that tenders must first be assessed in terms of a preference point system where price is the dominant basis on which procurement decisions must be made. It provides that at least 80 out of 100 points must be allocated based on price for tenders between R30,000 and up to R50m, and at least 90 out of 100 points must be allocated based on price for tenders over R50m. The remaining points may take non-price considerations like BBBEE into account. As the 90:10 and 80:20 split is a statutory requirement, there can be no deviation from it unless the PPPFA is amended by parliament.
The SCA found that the prequalification criteria in the regulations deviated from section 217(1) of the constitution, which requires organs of state and “institutions identified in national legislation” to procure goods or services in accordance with a “system which is fair, equitable, transparent, competitive and cost-effective”. The regulations did not create a framework for the application of the pre-qualification criteria and this could lend itself to abuse.
The minister’s decision to allow pre-qualification criteria also contradicted and deviated from the 90:10 and 80:20 split set out in the PPPFA and he had accordingly exceeded his powers.
Because of the interconnectedness of the regulations, the SCA declared them invalid in their entirety (and not just the portion of the regulations dealing with pre-qualification criteria). However, this order was suspended for 12 months from the date of the order (September 8 2020) to allow the finance minister time to remedy the defects.
The Constitutional Court focused on the narrow issue of whether the minister had the power to issue pre-qualification criteria in the regulations. The PPPFA provides that the minister may issue regulations “regarding any matter that may be necessary or expedient to prescribe to achieve the objectives of the act”. A five-judge majority found that the minister had exceeded his powers. A four-judge minority disagreed. The court unfortunately did not deal with whether prequalification criteria in state tenders complied with the requirements of section 217(1) of the constitution (this issue formed the basis for the SCA decision).
The Constitutional Court and SCA decisions have big implications, especially as procurement by governmental, parastatal and state-owned entities totals about R2-trillion annually. The SCA suspended its declaration of invalidity for 12 months but this period has expired. Any state tenders that involve pre-qualification criteria are open to challenge. The invalidity of the regulations in their entirety causes serious uncertainty and it is hoped that the minister will urgently take steps to rectify the situation.
The laws governing public procurement are being reviewed, and a draft Public Procurement Bill has been published that would repeal the PPPFA. Significantly, the bill does not repeat the statutory 90:10 and 80:20 requirements in the PPPFA. The bill provides for the finance minister to prescribe a framework for preferential treatment and procurement that must “consider” the BBBEE Act and include a preference point system and applicable thresholds and “measures for preference to set aside the allocation of contracts” to promote a category or categories of persons or businesses or a sector, SA-manufactured goods, local technology, services by SA citizens, job creation and enterprise in townships, rural or undeveloped areas, or in a particular province or municipality.
However, the bill has not yet been passed by parliament and the final act and any framework subsequently issued by the finance minister would still be subject to the section 217(1) constitutional requirements for public procurement, namely that the system must be “fair, equitable, transparent, competitive and cost effective”.
Though section 217(2) of the constitution states that section 217(1) does not prevent a preferential procurement policy for state tenders, it is clear that the section 217(1) requirements must be taken into account and a balance will have to be maintained in any future laws and regulations.
• Steyn is a director at Werksmans Attorneys.