Public procurement policy and good governance in Nigeria
Public procurement is a public policy of government formulated to address developmental challenges and governance. Many countries of the world today are using the procurement policy and implementation mechanism to tackle a number of problems that have to do with budget implementation, service delivery, social and economic development. This is a response to the evolving complexities of the global market place and part of efforts to obtain the best possible value and ensure equitable and efficient deployment of public resources. Public procurement is all about acquisition of goods and services at the best possible total cost, in the right quantity and quality at the right time, in the right place for the benefit or use of government, corporations or individuals through contract.
The objective of procurement policy is to promote transparency and accountability in governance. It is to ensure that the requisite standards are transparently maintained in the conduct of government business. Sound procurement practices constitute part of the essential element of good governance, just as poor practices lead to waste and delays and are often the causes of corruption and by implication, bad governance. It is on the basis of this that most governments in Africa have come to realise that a well-organised procurement systems contributes to good governance by increasing confidence and assuring judicious government spending.
The implementation of public procurement policy started in 200,7 in Nigeria, when the National Assembly passed the Procurement Act into law. In introducing the Procurement Policy, government took cognisance of the fact that increasing the efficiency and transparency in the use of public fund requires the existence of an adequate national procurement system that meets both national and international standards. This is also in view of the fact that quality of procurement practices in a country is determined by the quality of governance therein. Governance is a key determining factor of the productiveness of public procurement.
The question that readily comes to mind is if the procurement policy has helped to promote good governance in Nigeria after twelve years of its introduction. This is in view of the fact that the Nigeria experience of poverty in the midst of resource abundance is essentially attributable to deficiencies in the procurement systems, which was inefficient, easy to manipulate, difficult to control, non-transparent to bidders and the public alike, and corruption ridden.
The policy to some extent has brought about good governance as it seeks to ensure that budgets and spending by government are now based on open and competitive process within the limit of budgeting provision. Government expenditure as a matter of fact is now geared towards the realization of set priorities and targets at the most effective cost and efficient basis. Since the introduction of the policy, only projects budgeted for were presented for certification and subsequent execution. Through the policy, the Federal Government has within few years of its introduction been able to cancel awards of contracts found to have fallen short of criteria on procurement principles and practices. Government has also been able to save several billions of Naira from review of contract process before issuance of certificate of ‘No Objection’ and contract vetting.
While presenting its 2018 Annual Report in Abuja recently, the Bureau of Public Procurement disclosed that over N26.86b was saved for Federal Government in 2018 alone. The savings according to the Bureau were from the review of contracts awarded by various Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDA’s) before being given certificate of “No Objection” by it.
The public procurement policy has become a watershed in governance reform programmes as sanity has gradually been restored in procurement practices, taking cognisance of the fact that past procurements were shrouded in secrecy. Procurement practices of most Ministries, Departments and Agencies are now brought under complete watch of public procurement law regime.
A lot of money that would have been stolen or lost through inflated contracts costs are now being saved to meet developmental projects for the benefits of the public. The policy has brought about transparency, accountability, due process, fairness and value for money, which are critical elements of good governance. The policy has also helped to promote efficient and effective service delivery, in addition to improvement in the value of money due to increased standard of quality of service, as unnecessary purchases are being avoided to ensure that money spent is well worth and would provide maximum benefits for the end users.
Many failed contracts and abandon projects across the country in the past are pointers to negative impact that the country has suffered for so long from debilitating pangs of relatively non-accountable and opaque procurement system. The current procurement reforms in the country are critical integrity agenda of government put in place for the country to achieve good governance.
The successes recorded as a result of the introduction of the policy, not withstanding, there are still implementation challenges. According to the Bureau, Procurement activities in most MDAs are still shrouded in secrecy and not in line with international best practices. The reported cases of breaches being prosecuted by the anti-graft Agencies are clear testimony and manifestation of what is happening in some MDAs.
These breaches the BPP observed range from faulty bid solicitation process, advance exposure of the bidding criteria to their preferred bidders and overlooking forged procurement statutory documents during technical and financial bid process. It was also alleged that procurement officers in most cases have colluded with contractors and service providers to breach certain provisions of the BPP Act for selfish reasons. The issue of contract splitting and anticipatory approval have equally continued to constitute impunity on the part of top government officials.
Corruption in Public Procurement in whatever form, needs to be checked as it is capable of reducing quality of projects work and adverse consequences on the delivery of services that are supposed to be beneficial to the public and the country at large. Public Procurement Corruption is a cankerworm that government must fight if the objectives of the Policy are to be achieved. The National Assembly should ensure through its oversight functions that procurement practices are transparently carried out. On the other hand, the Judiciary should carry out sanctions on the violators of the Procurement Act. If violators are not sanctioned or apprehended, the abuses of the policy will not abate, no matter the amount of effort by government to make it achieve its lofty objectives.
Similarly, the anti-graft agencies like Economic and Financial Crime Commission, Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Commission and the Code of Conduct Tribunal should be properly empowered and granted needed autonomy to prosecute those who indulge in offences like bid rigging, collusive agreement, procurement fraud and unfair advantages in the award of contract.
If the principles of transparency, accountability, probity and effective budget performance, rule of law, effective management of public funds must be enthroned in our Public Procurement System, the Executive arm of government must also be prepared at all times to continue to provide good leadership. In governance, it is not what one says that is important, but what one does.
In view of the laudable and lofty goals of the Procurement Policy, both the present and successive governments should do all things possible not only to sustain it but to re-invigorate it by putting “biting razor teeth” and “hot iron knot” to block leakages through which it is being abused. The policy has come to stay in Nigeria. What remains is for everybody to join hands in supporting and developing strategies that will help to sustain it, especially in area of combating procurement corruption and fraud, which has been identified as its greatest challenge. This is the only way to promote good governance in the country. Without good governance, sustainable national growth and development becomes an illusion.
Dr. Aminu is the Director, Documentation, Translation and Publication (DTP), NOA Headquarters, Abuja.