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Cleaning up procurement


Comments / {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}} Views / Tuesday, 19 June 2018 00:00

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Corruption is often seen as having a human face but in reality it is usually a problem with the systems used in governance to run a country. The public often find fault with politicians, top public officials or other stakeholders but it is usually the gaps in the system that are exploited to line personal pockets. It is therefore imperative to fix the system so that it cannot be the root of corruption.

The National Procurement Commission (NPC) recently gazetted an upgraded set of procurement guidelines that need to be placed before parliament by August, which would be the arduous end game to a process that began in 2015 with the passing of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution.     

The new guidelines have been upgraded from the previous regulations introduced 12 years ago and include several progressive measures including a framework agreement, new information systems and provisions for the Government to implement an electronic procurement system.  

The new guidelines also infuse value engineering processes as practiced in developed countries that enable the Government to reduce cost overruns in crucial infrastructure projects. Commission members estimate that value engineering could save the Government a minimum of 10% on all construction-related contracts. The guidelines also include technical auditing of tenders.

The new guidelines also give powers to the National Procurement Commission to vet officials appointed to tender boards. If suppliers highlight conflict of interest on an appointment the Commission would also have the opportunity to raise this with other Government parties such as the Attorney General. Tender documents will also be shared so that other ministries and State departments can observe the tender process.  

To ensure high levels of transparency once the new procurement guidelines become law, bidders will be given a comprehensive debrief three days after a tender is closed. Aggrieved parties can present themselves before the procurement appeal board six days after a decision is made and if they are unsatisfied with the response can appeal to the Supreme Court. After the tender is awarded any member of the public can obtain the full tender evaluation committee report.

In the case of serious allegations, the Commission can alert the Auditor General to conduct an investigation. Currently, the tender appeal board is only provided for Cabinet members but under these guidelines tender appeal boards will be established for all tenders at the Cabinet, ministerial, department, project and regional level. These measures would go a long way to preventing preferential companies from getting tenders and reduce the culture of kickbacks between politicians and companies.

Such a broad-based effort to clean up procurement is crucial to Sri Lanka achieving its good governance ambitions. It is now imperative that these guidelines get the support of stakeholders, particularly the private sector to be passed into law. Business chambers and associations have a crucial role to play in drawing public attention to the importance of these guidelines as they create a transparent and accountable level playing field that could fill legal gaps that allow for corruption. 

At times the most important things are intangible. The upgraded procurement guidelines are the biggest step taken to promote governance since the Right to Information (RTI) Act. It is time to step up and ensure it happens.


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