Tim Cohen Senior editor: Business Day

How would you, just as a matter of speculative argument, steal a really large amount of cash from government coffers? It’s trickier than you might imagine. The government’s largest expenditure item by a country mile is salaries. In some provinces, the salary bill alone constitutes about 80% of the total budget and capital expenditure proper is basically nonexistent, because the salary bill has gradually eaten away budgets for everything else. This has its own problems, but from the perspective of our hypothetical crook, it’s a problem because one thing public servants, and nonpublic servants for that matter, really notice is when their pay packets get thumped. The other problem is that the government is actually a terrible spender. Getting a government department to sign a contract is infernally complicated. There are small mountains of paperwork that need to get done to buy the simplest thing. Getting paid on time is difficult enough on its own, as the government itself acknowledge...

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