The law the country awaited with bated breath

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There is no doubt that the current public procurement system has a lot of inefficiencies, as could be seen in the rate of implementation and execution of public projects, and has often been touted as prone to corruption.
Clearly there has been an urgent need for a well-defined public procurement system, something that has taken years to materialise, and when it did, it was not well received by the public and lawmakers alike. One, lawmakers went as far as to call the previous procurement Bill an “insult” to the hardworking entrepreneurs of this country, for its poorly defined parameters and too broad or overarching vested powers.

It brings relief to read through the summary of the revised Procurement Bill that finance minister Calle Schlettwein presented to the legislature this week. The revised Bill has indeed listened to the concerns raised not only in Parliament in 2013, but by the public through exhaustive consultations that took place.

One still has to read through the entire actual Bill to make a definitive judgement. However, what is clear from the summary presented is that many – if not all – of the concerns raised have been re-phrased and redefined, clearly an indication that government does listen to the public.

A central key for debate in the previous Bill was that it had vested the finance minister with unencumbered powers to appoint members to the policy office, an office that was also constituted as an undefined office with an all-purpose job description of investigating and penalising bidders and suppliers. Not to mention that the central procurement board too was, previously, established as a de facto authority, whose members could reign indefinitely or until their demise, and that also had powers to suspend or excommunicate bidders and suppliers at their discretion.

The new Bill has changed all that; members’ terms for office are now set, functions for the policy office are well defined with the office residing within the ambit of the finance ministry, and there are clear guidelines to the powers vested with the minister.

It is now up to the lawmakers to deliberate on the Bill, fine-tuning it into a law that would, it is our hope, grant fair access to all those who wish to participate in the public procurement system. Hopefully too the new authority that would be entrusted to manage the public procurement system would allow for a transparent administration, where those who feel done in by the system would be allowed to query the awarding of a contract without approaching the courts for relief.

A system where the public would not only be able to keep track of the public money spent, but could also critique the spending against the quality of the work done. Currently there are too many reports and insinuations of the public procurement system being used as a conduit for self-enrichment by a few well-connected individuals and top civil servants. It is a perception that the new Bill, once enacted into law, should first aim to eliminate.

Efficiency and empowerment of local suppliers are all good, but would very little to inspire confidence in the majority of taxpayers if the system itself retains its tainted reputation of nepotism and corruption.

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