It is a well-known fact that South Carolina has some of the weakest procurement laws in the nation. Our state is used in academic case studies of waste and fraud through loose procurement laws. These laws must be strengthened if the Palmetto State is to get a handle on spending through waste and opportunities for fraud at all levels of government.
It could be said that South Carolina Procurement Laws and regulations encourage and legalize fraud and waste. Lawmakers in powerful positions do not support strengthening the laws because they can use the loopholes to benefit their friends and strengthen their political power. Contractors do not publicly complain because they must “play the game” in order to “stay in the game.” The dominant media does not inform the public of the serious situation, because they and some of their advertisers benefit financially from the weak laws that allow unfair and unethical doling out of taxpayer funds in exchange for goods, services and favorable media coverage.
Former Greenville County Councilman Tony Trout, in the view of some, is a convicted felon, in part, because he did not fully understand how weak South Carolina Procurement Laws are. Just because common sense may tell you that something is wrong with a procurement contract or situation does not mean it is illegal in South Carolina.
Generally speaking, South Carolina laws permit government agencies and entities such as school boards, county and city governments to write their own procurement regulations within certain broad guidelines. As long as they follow the regulations they have written for their own government entity, the ways they spend taxpayer funds and award contracts are legal. They may be unfair, unethical and immoral, but they are legal in the eyes of South Carolina Law.
The Greenville County School Board found a way to circumvent the South Carolina Constitution regarding the legal debt limit the school board could reach in creating indebtedness for county property owners. The trustees created a “dummy” corporation, appointed a board of directors from their former colleagues and delegated authority to the corporation to borrow more than a billion dollars to build new schools. They hired a former school board chairman and former president of the Chamber of Commerce, who was involved in developing the plan, to administer the contracts.
The legislature quickly passed a law making the circumvention procedure used by the Greenville County School Board illegal in the future, but not in time to stop the now illegal process from continuing in Greenville County.
Governor-elect Nikki Haley and House Speaker Bobby Harrell can eliminate a great deal of wasted public funds if they pass and sign legislation to tighten the procurement rules in the state to require open and honest competitive bidding on contracts, and penalties for public employees who violate state procurement laws.
A first step in getting elected lawmakers to support stronger procurement laws would be to eliminate funding for full-time government employees who lobby the legislature for legislation frequently opposed by the taxpayers paying their salaries. Many of these people are fine individuals who perform their duties well, but public funds should not be used to pay for lobbying for more money when agencies and the state are short of funds, and taxpayers are fed up.