SOUND public procurement policy brings immediate tangible macro-economic benefits where more cost-effective procurement relaxes the budgetary pressure and creates fiscal space.
The major objectives of a public procurement policy are two-pronged, one which seeks to promote industry growth and the other which seeks to promote social development through the provision of affordable services to the society.
Reformation of public procurement laws is very important to align them with present demands of the environment.
Procurement laws encourage transparency and accountability in the practice of purchasing. Whatever the reforms maybe, the socio-economic goals remain at the core of such a policy. The question is what can be the expectations of an ordinary citizen for these reforms.
The society is the major stakeholder of the public procurement system as they double up as sponsors and also the beneficiaries of the system.
The public sponsors the system through the payment of taxes and in turn enjoys the infrastructure and also services rendered by public institutions.
Not many people will testify satisfaction with services provided by neither public institutions nor have anyone witnessed any meaningful industrial development as a result of the public procurement policy. There is surely need to re-look at the policy and make it more relevant to the achievement of the nation’s socio-economic goals.
The current policy emphasises on efficiency at the expense of effectiveness. Indeed, laws of the country must be followed by all citizens.
A procurement professional is deemed to have done a perfect job for as long as he or she has followed the regulations, even if the transaction does not make economic sense. As a result, the regulations are currently a curse as they ignore the quality aspects of transactions.
Public institutions are forced to buy poor quality equipment and even engage incompetent companies to carry out work in the name of the lowest bidder to specifications. In essence public institutions are slaves of the law. There is need for the law to be focused on effectiveness. Effectiveness enhances the quality of procurement decisions and consequently the output.
The other expectation will be to promote industry development thereby creating employment for the public and also improving capacity utilisation. The laws require that public institutions must give preference to indigenous companies when awarding orders.
The objective is to create a ready market for locally produced goods hence facilitating growth for indigenous companies. The law should emphasise on encouraging public institutions to buy locally manufactured goods as opposed to buying from indigenous companies.
This will encourage local companies to produce and get rewarded for that. This is in sharp contrast of what is currently obtaining on the ground. A lot of indigenous companies are getting tenders on the basis of the law only to flood public institutions with expensive poor quality imported goods.
A lot of indigenous shelf companies, which do not manufacture even a useless pin nor employ anyone other than the owner, have exploited the system at the expense of manufacturing companies.
If a product is not locally manufactured, the public institutions must be allowed to import as this results in the acquisition of quality goods and services helping public institution to render to the public services at competitive prices.
The problem of undeserving companies getting tenders is exacerbated by the State Procurement Board (SPB). The question is why does the State Procurement Board register and give vendor numbers to commodity brokers?
The law requires the SPB to carry out due diligence before registering suppliers in the national supplier database. The SPB has no capacity to evaluate all suppliers on the national supplier database and only register suppliers on the basis of flimsy company profiles and payment of a registration fee. This has resulted in incompetent suppliers being registered and to rub salt to the wound, the SPB forces public institutions to buy from these companies.
As such, the procurement practitioners expect some freedom in how they execute their tasks. They should be empowered to make a call on the capabilities of suppliers hence making them responsible for the outputs of their actions.
Practitioners can never be held responsible for selecting an incompetent supplier for as long as that supplier has a vendor number from the SPB. Ideally the law must make the SPB responsible for the quality of works and products of suppliers it registers on the national supplier database.
Lastly, but not least, any reforms in the public law should elevate the role of the procurement function in public institution. The strategic importance of the procurement function cannot continue to be ignored. The positions and titles of those in charge of purchasing are very poor in many public institutions which limit the impact of the practitioners. The practitioners must qualify to contribute to strategic planning sessions hence contributing to the overall performances of public institutions.
In conclusion, it doesn’t matter how technically sound the public procurement policy can be, it is very important that such a policy should achieve its intended goals. The industry must be well catered for as well as the public.
Bongani Mushanyuri a Supply Chain Management Specialist with The Bindura University of Science Education, he can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org.
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