In all, 39 national departments spent a total of R6.3bn in the past financial year (2016/2017) on consultants — over R1bn more than the previous year, and an unwelcome reversal from a two-year trend of reducing these costs. Consultants fall into a number of categories in annual reports. But two of the biggest, by some distance, are business and advisory services (outside experts hired by a department to advise on policy) and agency support or outsourced services (outside experts hired when a department lacks the capacity to do something itself). Both soared last year. Treasury’s documents showed that business and advisory services cost the taxpayer R3.3bn last year — an increase of R860m. Agency support cost R2.9bn — up by R213m. Of course, the 2016/2017 figures are just the final adjusted appropriation and might change after auditing takes place later this year. And there are a number of caveats to bear in mind about these numbers.First, treasury has implemented a number of austeri...

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