The vast majority of governments usually end their tenures with mixed records. Mixed amongst the bad will be at least a few good decisions. The establishment of an independent National Procurement Commission (NPC) under the 19th Amendment resulted in a set of upgrade guidelines that have been ready since early 2018. The good part was that the guidelines have been gazetted, but they now need Cabinet and Parliament approval.
Over the weekend, it was reported that the Finance Ministry has entered into a much-delayed contract with Theekshana, the research and development unit of the University of Colombo, to design and implement an electronic government procurement (e-GP) system to replace paper.
Sri Lanka is the only country in the South Asian region not to have an e-GP in place. The e-GP Secretariat was formed under the Department of Public Finance after Cabinet approval was taken, and while this was a positive step, it needs to be linked with the work already done by the Procurement Commission. Otherwise there is a danger that the e-GP could be undermined if it is not supported by due process and necessary legal teeth.
The procurement guidelines were compiled by the NPC for the purpose of formulating fair, equitable, transparent, competitive, and cost-effective procedures and guidelines for the procurement of goods and services, works, consultancy services, and information services by Government institutions.
The guidelines require the Government procurement process to ensure, among other things, transparency and accountability, provide fair, equal and maximum opportunity for eligible interested parties to participate in procurement and promote human wellbeing and support sustainable development by promoting environmentally friendly procurement while optimising resource utilisation and minimising the negative impact on the environment. The guidelines also require regular publishing of procurement data in accordance with the Open Contracting Data Standard (OCDS) and enhanced stakeholder trust and confidence during the entire procurement process.
The guidelines, which constitute national policy and are mandatory and applicable to all procurements carried out by Government institutions, also address measures to prevent fraudulent and corrupt practices that take place during the procurement process.
All policy- and decision-makers, officials, bidders, contractors and suppliers, subcontractors, service providers, and agents or any of their personnel are bound by the guidelines to the highest standards of ethics during the procurement process and contract execution and are required to be free from corrupt, fraudulent, collusive, coercive and obstructive practices. If the existence of corrupt practices is confirmed through a formal inquiry, sanctions, including debarment from that procurement process or eligibility for future procurements, will be imposed on bidders, contractors and officials, and could additionally be reported to the respective authorities for appropriate action. Already it is estimated that the State stands to save as much as Rs. 27 billion in public funds with a proper procurement process in place. Much of the corruption that many complain is endemic in Sri Lanka, is rooted in a flawed procurement system that allows for interference not just by politicians but also public servants, as the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) shows. Therefore it is important that comprehensive, clean and consistent governance be the aim.