The government was a prime target for corrupt activities – with opportunists lining up to sell “anything” to them to take advantage of the state coffers, deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe said yesterday.

“If people sell anything to the government … it goes up. A bottle of water costs R22,” he joked, as he related the tendency of contractors to try and fleece the government.

Answering questions at the closing session of Towards Carnegie III, Motlanthe said the government had to contend with people “both outside and inside the system” who were collaborating to “cheat the system” even though clear processes were in place.

“These tender processes were meant to be rigorous … but if there are people inside a tender adjudicating committee who have a vested interest and if those outside work around the system, then tenders will go to undeserving applicants.

Motlanthe told a story about government procurement that illustrated this point.

“In the Cabinet we try to ensure that there are in-house engineers in departments (to prevent this problem). The Ministry of Health has an in-house engineer and, very recently, they had Public Works indicating to them that the renovations of their head office would cost R23 million.

“Unbeknown to the Public Works people, the resident engineer sat them down and said, “let’s break it down”. He said we could not go beyond R5 million – and yet the quotation was R23 million.

“It is something we are grappling with as Cabinet. It is something we must continue to fight,” Motlanthe said.

“Of course we also have to protect whistle-blowers and ensure they are not victimized so these things can be dealt with decisively,” Motlanthe said.

By Sue Segar