A new year, new beginnings, new experiences. One experience that I didn’t ever think that I would need to contend with in the first month of this year, was facing not one, but two requests for a little ‘something’ in exchange for tender information to secure a project.
At Reputation Matters we live our motto of ‘excellence always, in all ways’ and I strongly believe that if we can’t secure the work on our own merit of our 18 years’ experience and track record, then we are clearly not the right fit for the project and it’s not an assignment we should be taking on.
These interactions have stirred up numerous emotions, but above all, it made me furious for several reasons:
It has made the tender process frivolous. What is meant to level the playing field, has turned into a mockery of the tender process. A tender is something that is meant to give everyone the same opportunity to pitch for a project. It’s supposed to be a very specific process and set of rules evaluating everyone against the same point system. It’s meant to be about what is best for the organisation, not the individual and certainly not for lining their own personal pockets.
Although tenders take numerous hours and dedication to compile, we have never shied away from participating in tenders. It’s a process that I’ve always felt confident in participating in, specifically regarding the strict regulations that I always imaged needed to be followed, respected, and adhered to. It’s one of those endorphin-filled moments when you’ve been put through your paces, done absolutely everything possible to showcase your skills, methodology and credentials and you receive that letter that reads that “your submission has been approved”, and you receive your purchase order (PO) number. It’s exhilarating when your hard work pays off.
Cheating is cheating. I am flabbergasted by the audacity of these requests. Not only does it go against our value of respect, but it also compromises our integrity. Everyone is bemoaning load shedding and the state of our economy, but cheating the system through fraud and corruption is exactly how we got into this mess as a country. It must stop somewhere, or rather with someone. We, as individuals and as organisations need to say ‘no’ to these requests, no matter how enticing it might sound.
I do wish that it was easier to report these things. Not so long ago, (excluding the two incidents in January 2023), I had someone approach me out of the blue wanting us to be part of a project that listed pretty much everything that we have to offer. He wanted to help us get the project with no paper trail. Alarm bells immediately went off, and I indicated that it all sounded incredibly unethical, and asked the caller to confirm his name and position at the organisation, ‘chief auditor’ (of all things) he confidently shared!
When I put the phone down, I immediately phoned the Department but there was no answer on the landline however I did manage to get the details of the spokesperson, who was rather dismissive. When I mentioned the reputational implications of the whole situation, he merely suggested that I report it to the South African Police Services (SAPS) or the Hawks. I called the Hawks, but there was no answer, sent an email, but the reply I received pretty much referred me back to the website where I got their initial contact details from.
As much as I would want to report these latest incidents, I highly doubt that I would get very far since there is no hard evidence or paper trails (emails, letters, WhatsApps or SMSs). That is why these tender fraudsters are so adamant about not wanting things recorded, not wanting to meet at the office and they would rather use personal channels of communication. Keep an eye out for this.
For me it is all in the name: Reputation Matters. We want to build great reputations, we want to work with organisations that align with our great values, which is the acronym for growth, respect, excellence, authenticity and trust (GREAT). However, the organisation must want to improve their reputation, we can’t build a reputation if it means compromising our own values and reputation in the process by mocking the system through bribery. Sometimes a reputation is so beyond repair a whole overhaul is needed.
What do I mean by that? I mean that in order to rebuild the reputation will require replacing the entire leadership, executive and management teams. Reputations are built from the example that leaders set and what they tolerate.
Sadly, don’t be fooled by a Code of Ethics in their annual reports. It is actions, not words that show ethical behaviour and someone’s integrity. I double-checked, all the entities that have approached us for the ‘something on the side’ have beautifully written paragraphs in their annual reports about ethics and integrity and how their management teams are committed to it. Annual reports are not meant to be glossy covers and fancy words, it needs to be actions that are not only lived, but that people are held accountable for.
I am convinced that there are still good entities out there who want the best for their organisations and are not just in it for themselves. Entities who want to build cultures where everyone thrives and not just places where only a few benefit from cheating a system for personal gain. I have to believe this, it has to be true if there is any hope for our country.
If in doubt, here are three lessons that we have learnt that hints towards a tender probably being dodgy and you should steer very very far away from it:
🚩 Inside information: You have very specific information about a tender before it is made public.
🚩 Audit trail: When personal telephones and email addresses are used to contact you about a tender.
🚩 Meeting times: When you are requested to attend a meeting to discuss a tender outside of work hours and not in the office building.
So, my question is, is there a point to even consider tenders? Has a winning bid already been allocated even before the tender documents have been penned down? How do we regain the trust in the tendering process?
So for now, until I get more clarity on ethical tendering, we’re out, no ‘somethings’ will be forthcoming from us.
Regine le Roux is a reputation specialist and managing director of Reputation Matters, a reputation management consultancy promoting sustainable organisational growth. She completed her Communication Management Honours degree Cum Laude at the University of Pretoria.