Strengthening Integrity and Accountability in Public Procurement

In an increasingly competitive and unstable global environment, procurement strategies and project management practices are undergoing continuous changes. These changes result in a reduction in efficiency, increase in costs and risk exposure; the need for public integrity in public procurement.

While at the recently concluded 13th East Africa Procurement Forum in Kigali, Rwanda which was held on 15th and 16th April 2021, The Executive of the Africa Freedom of Information Centre, Mr. Sendugwa Gilbert emphasized that public integrity is at the heart of building utmost trust and confidence of all stakeholders in the procurement process that delivers value for money and value for many. This entails; Full disclosure where everyone gets all and the same information in a timely manner and in usable formats, Public participation and scrutiny where the public is legally empowered to access information and take part in procurement processes and crucially encouraged in practice to scrutinise and provide actionable feedback to procuring entities, regulators and other stakeholders for better performance of a public contracting system, as well as Effective oversight and control, using citizen and other feedback to address concerns.

The need for an effective oversight and control of procurement activities and projects is a matter of growing concern for stakeholders across the globe. The Open Contracting Data Standard (OCDS) enables disclosure of data and documents at all stages of the contracting process by defining a common data model. This was created to support procuring entities to increase contracting transparency, and allow deeper analysis of contracting data by a wide range of users and it is only now with new technologies that procurement information should be published in user-friendly formats.

On disclosure, Uganda has published nearly 21,000 contracts in 2020 and 2021, Nigeria 151, in OCDS formats. Ghana and Malawi have published 57 and 16, respectively. Nigeria has uniquely identified Covid-19 contracts while other countries have not. We are engaging Kenya to implement OCDS. The 12th East Africa Procurement Forum resolved to embrace open contracting and also to promote inclusiveness in public contracting. Over the past year, we have developed tools including dashboards and monitored covid-19 and other public contracts in Malawi, Ghana, Nigeria and Uganda. We have also conducted mapping of disclosure of procurement data of Kenya.

We have so far seen several benefits of embracing open contracting in Africa, to facilitate effective oversight and control of public project. For one, it allows for the early identification of any potential problems in the execution of public contracts and allows for early corrective measures to be taken. Besides this, it allows for better cost-effectiveness by ensuring better utilization of the existing resources without incurring additional costs, improved productivity, reduced costs, a reduction in risk exposure and better oversight and control of the entire procurement process. The primary benefit of open contracting is transparency, which allows for better risk management of the entire project.

We note however, that disclosure is still challenged:

  • Disclosure platforms should be improved and aligned to open contracting standards to allow publication of accessible data
  • Agencies are disclosing far less than they should
  • Covid-19 response procurements are not differentiated from other procurements. This is necessary because special procedures with no oversight were used in high risk processes with minor oversight.
  • Few Covid-19 procurements have been published.

Corruption thrives on secrecy. Transparency and accountability have been recognized as key conditions for promoting integrity and preventing corruption in public procurement. However, they must be balanced with other good governance imperatives, such as ensuring an efficient management of public resources − “administrative efficiency” − or providing guarantees for fair competition. In order to ensure overall value for money, the challenge for decision makers is to define an appropriate transparency and accountability to reduce risks to integrity in public procurement while pursuing other aims of public procurement.

AFIC and its members have conducted mapping of disclosure practices, analyses of disclosed data and monitoring of public contracts. Analysis has been based on critical indicators: disclosure, competition, and efficiency, value for money, time and cost overruns. Findings and recommendations have been made to respective MDAs and oversight agencies in target countries such as Uganda, Kenya, Malawi, Ghana and Nigeria. Feedback has been received and implementation is at different stages in each country.

We note low levels of disclosure, very limited competition, inefficiency in the tending system, time and cost overruns and lack of disclosure of gender desegregated data on participants in tenders.

Participation also includes ability for special interest groups to receive necessary information and compete for tenders. We have conducted a study on feminist open contracting in Kenya, Malawi and Nigeria. We find challenges by women to access tender information, low capacity to prepare winning bids, and other challenges. We have also been engaging policy makers for legal reforms to enhance local participation.

Kenya publishes contracts issued through AGOP (Access to Government Opportunities but this is not in open formats and not linked to wider procurement disclosure while Uganda has initiated reservation schemes for local contractors and have conducted public awareness regarding encouraging participation of women-owned enterprises.

If information is not disclosed in a consistent or timely manner (e.g. disclosure of information on other bids in the award in a context of limited competition), it might be counter-productive by increasing the opportunity of collusion between bidders who can identify their competitors early in the process and contact them. While countries are progressively disclosing more information on public procurement procedures and opportunities in accordance with Freedom of Information Acts, they are also selecting what information cannot be disclosed, at what stage of the process and to whom − bidders, other stakeholders and the public at large.

COVID-19 Emergency Procurements

Regarding the COVID-19 emergency procurements, we take cognizant of the lessons on accountability issues. It helps a great deal when a procuring entity is already transparent in the procurement systems. Pandemics will affect pace but not transparency. There is a need for fast procurements with transparency. Lack of transparency undermines overall efforts against pandemics. Pandemics push for relaxation of oversight and quick procurements. Political commitments for transparency and accountability need to be packed by action. We acknowledge that progress has been made on the resolutions of the 12th EAPF and commitments in the IMF and WB covid-19 response contracts but more is visibly needed.

While covid-19 pandemic caused major disruptions in public contracting, it also created opportunities for local companies especially when foreign contractors repatriated. However, lack of readiness and preparedness by local companies limited the impact. We know emergency situations call for big spending with relaxed oversight, creating a high risk for corruption. Emergency situations in environments of low integrity exacerbate the emergency with contracts being issued and executed without value for money.

 “During Covid-19, EAC countries adopted different solution-oriented initiatives. In this meeting, we will look at how to harmonize those initiatives and learn from each other. As EAC, our legal frameworks have to be interconnected,” Joyeuse Uwingeneye, Director General of RPPA.

 “The outcomes will shape the way our legal and regulatory framework are improved to cater for emergency procurement under similar circumstances such as Covid-19 and other force majeure,” she added.

With the support of new technologies risk management tools are made an integral part of the fundamental processes. The extensive use of information platforms like websites, the Government Procurement Portal can be used both as a tool for communication with stakeholders and for curbing corruption through increased transparency in processes that are vulnerable to public procurement.

Institutions in charge of public procurement in East Africa Community (EAC) member countries have been urged to embrace electronic methods of issuing public tenders to prevent corruption and other malpractices.

The Minister of Economic Planning and Finance, Uzziel Ndagijimana in Rwanda made a call for EAC Countries to embrace e-procurement. According to Ndagijimana, public procurement plays a central role in good governance when it is characterized by transparency, integrity, and fairness among other virtues, a reason there should be a modernized way of issuing public tenders to ensure fair public procurement.

“Public expenditures are done through public procurement, literally, the international budget excluding salaries and a few other budget lines. These large amounts of public spending create temptation to corruption, the reason we need proper legal and regulatory frameworks for public procurement and their proper enforcement,” he said.

He added: “We need to modernize our public procurement, including digitization to minimize human contact and intervention. The latter creates opportunities for corruption and malpractices.”

In 2017, Rwanda adopted the Umucyo e-Procurement System, a portal through which bidders submit their proposals and quotations, reducing physical interaction between them and procurement officials.

Since then, according to statistics by the Rwanda Public Procurement Authority (RPPA), 19,850 tenders were published, about 85,000 bids processed, and 16,976 contracts were awarded to competent bidders through the portal. 210 procuring entities used the system.

We therefore recommend that:  

  1. Study on barriers to participation of special groups like women, youth, persons with disabilities
  2. We cannot realise integrity in public procurement without citizen feedback. The quality of citizen feedback determined by timely access to quality information. Procurement Authorities should urgently implement 12 EAPF resolution of publishing procurement data in OCDS. AFIC is committing to partner.

EAC member countries host the East African Procurement Forum rotationally every year. In 2019, Tanzania hosted it. Because of the outbreak of Covid-19, the forum did not take place in 2020.

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