Contested Terrain: Reforming Procurement Systems in South Africa, 2013-2016


When he took office as South Africa’s finance minister in 2009, Pravin Gordhan found that government officials responsible for purchasing goods and services were wasting billions of dollars every year as a result of inefficiency, errors, and corruption. Gordhan wanted to confront all three problems by consolidating and strengthening control over procurement. In February 2013, he tapped longtime finance ministry official Kenneth Brown to serve as the country’s first chief procurement officer. Brown had to restructure systems, tighten procedures and regulations, and build effective oversight. He assembled a skilled team and persuaded skeptical politicians and business interests to support Gordhan’s goals. His office reviewed and renegotiated costly contracts, provided crucial market analysis and advice on procurement strategies for other departments, and took first steps toward creating an online system. Brown strengthened funding, built a staff, and put new systems in place. By the time he retired in December 2016, his efforts had sharply reduced opportunities for corruption, increased transparency in the procurement process, and slashed the time required to process tenders. The new office helped South Africa better comply with some of its obligations under the United Nations Convention against Corruption, even though Brown and Gordhan faced opposition from people at some of the highest levels of government.

Tristan Dreisbach drafted this case study based on interviews conducted in Johannesburg, Pretoria, and Cape Town, South Africa, in March 2017. The British Academy-Department for International Development AntiCorruption Evidence (ACE) Program funded the development of this case study. Case published June 2017.


South Africa
National Treasury
Chief Procurement Officer
Focus Area(s)
Civil Service
Critical Tasks
Building inter-agency cooperation
Compliance with international law
Corruption in the Civil Service
Legal structure
Organization and staffing
Core Challenge
Capacity (capability traps)
Institutional traps (spoilers)
Reducing capture
Country of Reform
South Africa
Case Studies
Tristan Dreisbach