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 Saturday, November 25 2017 7:02pm Hongkong Time

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Challenges and lessons learned

  1. The greatest challenge for procurement monitors is lack of access to information and records. Also for individual monitors, the run around public officers reluctant to comply with the law give procurement monitors is both frustrating and discouraging. The problem is that in practice there isn't any effective sanction for public officers who wrongfully refuse or delay access to information.
  2. Procurement monitoring in a system emerging from a regime of an official secrets act can be tedious, risky and time consuming for monitors. There is need for incentives to motivate monitors to dedicate more time and take the risks that procurement monitoring sometimes brings in such an environment. Law enforcement agencies need to be alive to their responsibility to protect monitors if and when harassed or threatened. PPDC through the support of partners like United Nations Democracy Fund (UNDEF), PACT-USAID Advance Program, Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA) and World Bank's Civil Society Fund (CSF) and Institutional Development Fund (IDF) projects, provides token stipends to cover costs of copying, transportation etc associated with procurement process monitoring. An effort of the PPDC under this program had trained civil society monitors nominated by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, (ANCOR) program, with an understanding that the agency and organizations will deploy them and set up a strong feedback mechanism that will support monitoring; this initiative it appears has suffered from budget constraints on the part of the EFCC.
  3. Securing remedial action of regulators and particularly legislative committees is a major challenge. In the end monitors are not themselves implementing or regulatory agencies, they have no statutory power to carry out a lot of the measures required to improve the system, the results of monitoring activities are useful to them for advocacy purposes, to achieve required improvements legislative committees and regulators need to act on such reports. The current program undergoes a lot of rigor to give credibility to its outputs, the regulators are presented report findings before publication and an opportunity to challenge them, in some quarters this does not appear to have attracted as much remedial action as was initially expected particularly from legislative committees. During the 2010 assessment report of which was published in 2011, PPDC researchers did not secure access to procurement officials in the National legislature. PPDC in 2011 embarked on a specific assessment of the procurement process in the legislature. The report of this exercise published by PPDC earlier in 2012, indicated a score of 0-1 out of a scoring range of 0-3 in eight of the sixteen assessed benchmarks for the procurement practice at the National Assembly administration, part of the challenges identified by that report is the level of interference of the legislators in the procurement process in the Assembly which ought to be carried out by administrative staff and the scandals that have resulted thereform [10].
  4. Despite submitting this report to many legislators, and the National Assembly Administration during 2012 , they have neither responded to it nor taken any of the steps recommended to improve the legislatures own procurement system [11]. Given the constitutional responsibilities of the legislature the findings of this report portends huge consequences not only for the public procurement system in general, but also for the moral authority and ability of the legislature to carry out its constitutional oversight duties as it regards agency procurement activities effectively. The attitude and reaction of the legislature to such obvious abuses has become increasingly demoralizing for civil society monitors.
  5. On the contrary, sometimes but not all the time, the executive branch appears to have reacted to some findings of the reports, Chart 4.1 in the PPDC assessment report published in 2012 shown below [12], shows results of a survey of procurement officers of government departments at the federal level in Nigeria, where they ranked nine factors identified as impediments to implementation and compliance to the procurement law, ranking late budget passage which always leads to year end rush to implement budget provisions before they lapse as the number one factor impeding implementation of the provisions of the act. This had also been highlighted in the 2011 implementation assessment report. The executive branch of government, not only submitted its budget proposals in good time for the 2013 budget year i.e. in October of 2012, but as a result of delays in passing the budget by the legislature, the Bureau for Public Procurement in January 2013 secured a circular of the Secretary to the Federal government requiring departments to begin, (but not conclude) initial procurement implementation steps prior to budget approval, to avoid the last minute rush at the end of the year identified by the report as a direct consequence of late budget passage. It is to be seen to what extent the executive arm will respond to the many other findings and recommendations of the 2012 report, including for example reduction of political influence in the procurement process.

Percentage distribution of procurement activities monitored amongst different procuring entities
Chart 4.1.   Factors contributing to poor implementation of the Public Procurement Act. Source: Procurement Monitor at http://www.procurementmonitor.org/

  1. Though this is an issue that has been subject matter of public commentary for some time, this evidence based report certainly provided impetus and strengthened the voice of various group demands that government act to deal with this issue of late budget passage and last minute rush to implement projects at the end of the year before the budget expires, we are hopeful that these efforts will improve the situation from the current fiscal year 2013 and beyond.
  2. Also Chart 6.1 in the 2012 report showing assessment of procuring entities procurement implementation performance by civil society organizations surveyed indicated a 16% improvement in access to information [13].

Percentage distribution of procurement activities monitored amongst different procuring entities
Chart 6.1.   CSO's assessment of performance of procuring entities – Areas of sustained improvement in the procurement process. Source: Procurement Monitor at http://www.procurementmonitor.org/

  1. This however was found not to be a significant improvement for purposes of monitoring, given that the baseline was a near total absence of citizen access to publicly held information. This survey results captured in this diagram also indicates improvements in bid solicitation and advertisement and evaluation practices from the position in the previous reporting year, when the process was reported by the business sector to break down in many cases at the point of evaluation.
  2. The good news as shown by Chart 7.4b from the same report is that over seventy percent of impediments to improvements to the procurement process identified are factors internal to the institutions, supervising ministries etc, this suggests that government can resolve these issues, the bad news is that not as many efforts as required appear to be under way to resolve them.

Percentage distribution of procurement activities monitored amongst different procuring entities
Chart 7.4b.   Relative improtance of impediments to the procurement process – Analysis BPP rating. Source: Procurement Monitor at http://www.procurementmonitor.org/

  1. Another lesson learnt is that civil society should take care to share credit for successful program outcomes for example with public regulators, whose long-term support is essential. It is important to acknowledge their valuable input to policy enforcement when it occurs – even if civil society contributed more to the workload. This may be one way to try to resolve the serious challenge of securing their remedial action on findings of evaluation and monitoring programs like this one.
  2. A winner of the World Bank Institute organized global procurement innovation challenge. The Nigerian program has become an example to many other jurisdictions and PPDC is continuing to share its experiences and to motivate the emergence of procurement monitoring programs in other African countries under the platform of the World Bank supported Institutional Development Fund (IDF) African Contract Monitoring programs. It also acts currently as moderator of the Nigerian chapter of the West African Contract Monitoring Program.
  3. A change in the law is only the first step to improving access to information in systems emerging from long years of totalitarian rule and a public sector culture of official secrets act. Progress requires active and persistent stakeholder actions and a court system that is alive to its responsibilities and effective in enforcing the law.
  4. Experience has shown that people find it easier to monitor procurement on subject matters they are otherwise interested in, engaged with or care about. Aligning interests in this way also makes training and mobilization reasonably more effective. Ultimately people are the drivers of the procurement reforms; the portal is only an enabler.
  5. A major challenge is that given the size of the country, the number and size of procuring entities (815 coded on the portal), the project may not in the near future be able to generate enough civil society monitors to sufficiently cover a good sample size of projects, across procuring entities in the country, this is a major threat to achieving full capacity utilization of the portal. This is also why PPDC has been seeking partnership with the National Youth Service Corps which manages the one year compulsory service year of tertiary institution graduates in Nigeria, usually posted across the country for their one year compulsory service to the nation, this partnership proposal, if it succeeds presents the best opportunity for mobilizing sufficient monitors for effective monitoring of procurement activities and projects across Nigeria. PPDC proposes to train the corpers through an online self paced procurement monitoring tool, to be built and plugged into the portal. Currently the portal is built in a way that it can rank and rate performance of all federal government agencies procurement on a wide range of parameters generated from the procurement law and rules, the reason such ratings are not currently being carried out is the delay in mobilizing sufficient number of trained monitors, sufficiently spread to provide reports on adequate sample sizes of procurement from different government departments across the country.
  6. A major weakness of this monitoring system like all others requiring human action at any stage, is that ultimately the integrity of the reports are dependent on the knowledge, skill and integrity of the monitors who provide them, a challenge we have tried to resolve with standardizing the monitoring tool, verifying monitors, providing training, allowing the regulator to challenge report findings prior to publication and providing a tracking mechanism that tracks every report to the monitor that provided it, such that errors if and when they occur can be adequately tracked.
The portal acknowledges the efforts and co-operation of the Bureau for Public Procurement, the procurement industry regulator in Nigeria and its continued efforts in implementing procurement reforms in Nigeria, the National Procurement Watch Platform, the Nigerian Society of Engineers, Media Rights Agenda, Action Aid Nigeria, Justice Development and Peace Initiative, COPE-Africa, Zero Corruption Coalition, Publish What You Pay, Initiative for Food, Environment and Health Society Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) amongst others. Also it acknowledges the grant support of The United Nations Democracy Fund, Pact USAID Advance Program, Open Society Justice Initiative for West Africa, Civil Society Fund of the World Bank and the World Bank IDF – West African Contract Monitoring Program.

ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTOR

Chibuzo Ekwekwuo, a Nigerian trained lawyer, is a development law specialist in the area of anti-corruption, good governance, and promotion of increased citizenship participation that supports prevention, detection and reporting of corruption.

Email Chibuzo at chibuzo {dot} ekwekwuo {at} commentary {dot} com



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Note 10: National Assembly and the implementation of the Public Procurement Act 2007 PPDC 2007

Note 11: ibid.

Note 12: Walking the Path of Procurement Reforms in Nigeria PPDC 2012. See http://www.procurementmonitor.org/

Note 13: Walking the Path of Procurement Reforms in Nigeria PPDC 2012. See http://www.procurementmonitor.org/




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