‘Value for money’ procurement; a possible stimulus for Sierra Leone’s post Ebola recovery
Successive reports by the Auditor- General (AG) have consistently identified non-compliance of procurement procedures as a serious challenge in the country’s public financial management system.
In the executive summary of the 2011 report, the AG stated that; “We encountered many instances of breaches in procurement procedures. Several significant lapses were observed … resulting in incomplete transactions and hence unsatisfactory service delivery”.
The 2012 report was even more critical and imputed that “failure to comply with procurement laws and regulations remains endemic and is a bigger problem to tackle successfully”. The report went on to relate those procurement failures to loss of revenue: “Our audit work on the Public Accounts and in MDAs suggests procurement deviations from laws and regulations amounting to Le24, 225,042,005”.
With those gloomy findings, one would expect that the 2013 report should have shown some improvement; rather it makes a grim reading.
“Uncompetitive and unfair procurement processes, inadequate contract management and missing tender documentation were observed during the course of the audit. In many cases there was no evidence of fair, transparent and competitive processes being followed in awarding contracts. For instance, we found that MDAs undertook Le 9.2 billion in procurements for which the PPA and Regulations were not followed. In addition, salient supporting documents such as; performance bonds, GST returns, and contractual agreements covering Le 13.3 billion of procurements, though requested, were not presented for audit.
Experts say, in many countries, public procurement accounts for about 20-30% of GDP. Therefore, if the processes and procedures are not properly handled, a huge chunk of public funds would be unaccounted for. Clearly, procurement has a reputational implication and the World Bank (WB) takes it seriously. The WB Procurement Hub Coordinator, Chief Bayo Awosemusi explains that “It is an important activity in project implementation and serves as a link between commitment of a loan and its disbursement”.
In the quest to supporting the government in reversing the systemic failures as highlighted in the AG’s report, the Bank is engaging the government, under the auspices of its recently effective project – Public Financial Management Consolidation and Improvement Project – to strengthen the capacities of MDA, Local Council, and Regulatory Agency to conduct their procurement activities consistent with the PPR Act and Regulations. Substantial funding has been provided to cater to these needs.
Regarding WB-funded projects, measures are in place to ensure that the principles and procedures are being followed. As far as procurement is concerned, projects are largely being audited by private sector auditors ensuring more rigorous due diligence processes (prior reviews and post procurement reviews).
Meanwhile, prior to the outbreak of the Ebola epidemic, the World Bank’s procurement team has been engaging its projects counterparts, the media and other stakeholders regarding the bank’s procurement policies. This is to ensure a move towards achieving the broader objective of “value for money” in procurement processes within the WB-funded projects.
In April 2014, the World Bank procurement team organized a two-day training workshop which targeted Project Coordinators/Directors, Procurement Specialist/Officers/Assistants, Consultants and Project Accountants. About 21 representatives, some of whom had not had approved procurement plans, participated.
The Objectives of the workshop were to: (i) review 2013 procurement plans to identify any bottlenecks and develop strategies to avoid them in future; (ii) align 2014 procurement activities with project development objectives; (iii) adopt procurement methods that would lead to smarter procurement implementation with stronger development on the ground in line with revised thresholds; (iv) adopt strategies for quick disbursement; (v) exchange of experience on project implementatio n; and (vi) timely public disclosure of approved/updated procurement plans in line with relevant Guidelines.
Supported by the Procurement Hub Coordinator, the WB Country Office procurement and financial management teams reviewed the various projects’ procurement plans. The training covered (i) Procurement Implementation Risks Management for Results; (ii) Focusing on Managing for Results in the Annual Work Planning Process; (iii) Results-based Procurement Planning; (iv) Contract Administration and Monitoring; (v) Procurement Cycle Tracking System (PROCYS); (vi) Procurement Implementation for results – the flexibilities and (vii) Issues Observed in Procurement Post Reviews. During the workshop, the various project teams finalized the project procurement plans for 2014.
However, while there are indications of good capacity among many of the participants, it was clear that continuous capacity building was still required for others. But observers say that, in addition to capacity issues, there were other very important elements standing in the way of surmounting the country’s procurement challenges. Admittedly, there is need for strong punitive sanctions taken on infringements while attitudinal change will also be required.
The Auditor-General’s report of 2012 states that; “The governance, legal and enforcement framework contained in the National Procurement Act 2004, is basically well designed but the will to make it work seems to be missing”
As Sierra Leone strives towards recuperation from the devastation of the Ebola outbreak, observers say, a better appreciation of the Auditor General’s recommendations might achieve ‘value-for-money and significantly save much needed resources which could be ploughed into other recovery programs.
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