Monday, 29 September 2008

Sanitizing Public Procurement Sector

National Assembly moves to re-organize the public procurement sector with planned legislation on procedure for the award of contract

By Tosin Omoniyi

The wave of anti-corruption awareness and campaign appears to have been elevated to a much higher level by the Yar'Adua-led administration. The public procurement system that has hitherto been utilised for corruption is being overhauled by the federal government. The finding of the Godwin Elumelu committee of the House of Representatives about the corrupt activities that characterised the Power sector from 1999 to 2007, in which the nation had allegedly lost a whopping $16 billion due to financial misappropriation and massive public looting, has been linked to the faulty mechanism on which procurement is being managed by successive Nigerian administrations.

Procurement experts posit that unless the government sanitizes public procurement and the day-to-day administration of government activities, public procurement crimes like collusive agreement, procurement fraud, bid rigging, unfair advantage in bidding processes or even outright stealing of public funds may be a constant occurrence in the already overheated polity.

Perhaps to underlay his administration's readiness to combat this hydra-headed scourge militating against the nation's rapid economic growth, President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua recently approached the National Assembly, announcing the federal government's desire to effect some amendments in the recently passed Public Procurement Act and the Revenue Allocation Formula of the Federation, a twin-legislation that has grabbed a major portion of the lawmakers' attention for several weeks.
The amendments proposed by the government has not yet been put down on paper by the presidency, but analysts opine that measures aimed at cutting down on government expenditure and also streamlining the processes of public procurement, which has been shrouded in secrecy for many years, may be part of the president's intentions.

The presidency came under the fire of the Chartered Institute of Purchasing and Supply Management of Nigeria, CIPSM, for appointing the former President of the Nigerian Society of Engineers, NSE, Emeka Eze as the substantive Director-General of the Procurement Bureau. In a petition signed by the president of CIPSM, Alhaji M.J. Aliyu, he noted that the appointment was a direct usurpation of the role of the CIPSM as enshrined in the Public Procurement Act 2007 and the Chartered Institute of Purchasing and Supply Management Act 2007 (part 4 section 11(9), which states in part that, “A person shall not be entitled to be appointed or engaged to head any purchase/supply chain management, unless he or she is duly registered by the institute and qualified by examination. Furthermore, the law states clearly that such a person, having qualified academically should in addition have at least 15 years of professional experience.” Aliyu told newsmen in Abuja that the appointment was “lacking professional etiquette and was a disregard to the Act establishing the institute.”

Despite the face-off, there are moves to overhaul the procurement process. According to sources in the National Assembly, major changes that would define the process for many years to come are being worked into the procedure for contract awards and government spending. Issues like the roles of specified governmental agencies, parastatals, corporations and parastatals tenders' board would be clearly defined in the final amended copy of the Act. Also, different thresholds in the contract sums for the award processes have been realigned to meet internationally accepted standards. For ministers, the limit of award grant permitted may not exceed N250 million while N10 million is being projected for parastatals boards across the country.

According to Mazi Emmanuel, an Abuja-based procurement consultant, the nation had to move into the global trend of efficient and corruption free public procurement procedure which is the only viable panacea for its numerous unending economic woes. He notes: 'The public procurement corruption in Nigeria will be curbed if the legislature performs its expected role in the public procurement system in Nigeria. To this effect, the constitution of Nigeria has authorized the National Assembly, through their oversights functions to be informed, monitored, questioned and evaluate the activities of our public procurement, procuring entities and its managers.”

The Country Procurement Assessment Report, CPAR, was commissioned between July and December 1999 by the erstwhile Obasanjo administration to fine-tune the process of pubic expenditure. Among its multifaceted achievements are the initiation of the Chartered Institute of Purchasing and Supply Management Act (2007) and the Bureau of Public Procurement (Due Process Office). Notwistanding this, the nation has lost billions of naira to unhealthy and corrupt practices in the public procurement sector, a situation Nigerians have continued to decry.

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