e-Procurement And The Anti-Corruption War
Last week, I was privileged to attend a three-day Workshop on e-Procurement organized by the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP). The workshop was held at the State House Auditorium from the 29th – 31st August, 2016. Stakeholders represented at the function included Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs), Contractors, Consultants, Service Providers, Professional Bodies, Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), the media and the General public.
The resource persons were drawn from multilateral organisations such as the World Bank and African Development Bank as well as other international experts. To most of the participants that gathered in the hall the workshop provided a platform to review the World Bank report of e-Government Procurement Readiness Assessment. It also availed them of more knowledge and better understanding of e-Procurement through the rigorous interactive sessions.
Throughout the sessions the words e-Procurement and e-Government procurement were used interchangeably but in reality they meant virtually the same thing. Most of the participants already knew that the primary concern of the BPP as clearly defined in its enabling Act, was the nature of procurement undertaken by the government. The acronym e-GP which was freely used simply implied that electronic platforms will be the preferred method for all procurement activities in the public sector in the near-most future if the BPP and the various MDAs represented are able to get their acts together.
When the country is able to surmount all the challenges for its smooth take-off, it is my firm belief that e-Procurement will undoubtedly become the essential pillar of the current anti-corruption war for many reasons principal of which is that it will reduce human interface in the procurement process to the barest minimum.
When subjectivity that results from human interference is eliminated the process will also benefit from the enhanced competitiveness that will further enlarge the procurement space with greater participants. And because of the reduced impact of human interference it also all too obvious that the e-GP platform will guarantee greater transparency.
Suddenly it occurred to me that the e-GP will also offer a golden opportunity for the revival of the vanquished Nigerian middle class. Numerous governments in the past offered various blueprints for the enthronement of Nigerian SMEs, without creating the critical environment for them to thrive. The transparent platform e-GP will provide will unleash their potential for certain in much the same way that the Afri-Project Consortium did for the defunct PTF.
Back then, aspiring local businessmen did not require to know anybody in government to win contracts under the PTF. With e-GP don’t have to be well-connected to win government contracts. A level playing field will be created for every potential entrepreneur with a dream to make the difference and Nigeria will be the ultimate winner.
Although the old PTF did not utilize electronic procurement, the fact that its lead consultants were transparent and had integrity opened up the procurement space for many enterprising Nigerians. Their quality and hard work, did it for them especially for the numerous pharmaceutical companies who rushed to fill the yawning gap in the supply of much needed drugs for the country.
On a higher perspective, e-GP will also enhance the quality of governance. The huge savings that will be made from the departure from the present corruption-prone system could be re-channelled to address the nation’s huge infrastructural deficit. The potentials of e-GP are so massive that I was surprised that the SGF failed to make an appearance at the function as earlier advertised. It was a point the Chairman of the House Committee on Public Procurement did not fail to stress with emphasis.
If participants at the workshop learnt anything at all, it was in the criticality of government buy-in for the e-GP to achieve its desired objectives. It therefore did not come as a surprise when Zambia was declared to be well ahead of all the countries in sub-Saharan Africa in its readiness to embrace the platform.
The challenge for Nigeria is that the government must not only support the BPP in this laudable venture but also equip it to contribute meaningfully to the anti-corruption was through its various initiatives must of which are provided for in its enabling Act. It is saddening that more than one year into the life of this administration, it yet to inaugurate the National Council on Procurement as provided for in the PPA, 2007.
Government support for the BPP in this context is crucial because the facilitators also highlighted other factors that could curtail the BPP from embracing e-GP as soon as it would wish. They include the late passage of national budget, weak capacity of Procuring entities, weak internal controls in MDAs and the paucity of procurement data.
Others include weak contract management procedures, unethical market practices, and the delay in procurement approval and payment. The report concluded that with the appropriate legal framework and strong leadership commitment to the cause; the adoption of the Electronic Procurement would assist all countries to address the various challenges identified in the procurement process.
Apart from the above much was also made out of the obvious infrastructural challenges particularly the critical issues of access to internet connections and other ICT platforms on which the project will be heavily dependent. Participants also recognized the challenges of insecurity, inter-operability – defined here as configuration and system integration/compatibility among the other challenges.
On the brighter side, it was gratifying to note that Nigeria already possessed the requisite legislative framework to commence e-GP. No fewer than three (3) legislative platforms support it. These are the Public Procurement Act, 2007 Section (5) (q); the Cybercrime Act 2015 which provides recognition of electronic signature and penalties, and the Nigeria Information Technology Development Agency Act with its framework for Electronic Government of which e-Procurement is a component.
But by the time the workshop ended, it was obvious to all that huge potentials of the project to our socio-economic growth and development far outstripped all the negativities. Promote innovativeness because it will provide the technique to accelerate the implementation of the national budget. The ball is now firmly in the court of the federal government to demonstrate its will and determination to see it through.
One good starting point is for the authorities to believe more in the capacity of the BPP by equipping it with the best human capital and also by removing all inhibitions that are likely to inhibit its numerous initiatives such as the e-GP. The government must recognize its potential as a pillar of the on-going anti-corruption war.