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What needs to happen to do procurement right in West Africa

Public procurement sounds bureaucratic and boring, but the stakes of doing it well are high. In West Africa, where we have recently completed a series of scoping studies with the Open Contracting Partnership, government procurement accounts for nearly 15% of GDP. Beneficiaries of the goods, services, and works procured through public contracts – citizens – depend on these funds being well spent. So do the livelihoods of workers who will construct, grow, and produce as a result.

Through our West Africa open contracting scoping studies project, we found positives and negatives about the procurement environments in the countries studied: Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Senegal. We have found stronger legal frameworks and better institutional organization for procurement, but we also identified some common trouble areas.

In this post, we highlight some of these challenges throughout the contracting cycle, along with some of the solutions these countries are implementing to address them.

Planning phase

There are two primary issues to address in the planning phase:

As governments begin to adopt e-procurement solutions (as Nigeria and Ghana, and perhaps others, are likely to do in the coming years), exploring opportunities to link procurement planning systems with other information systems can drive healthy practices. For instance, procurement planning can be connected directly to budget systems, requiring that procurements adhere to approved budgets. Linking procurement planning to tenders can ensure that the latter align with budget allocations, while alerts can be set to inform procurement authorities if tendering moves ahead without completion of required assessments. A unique identifier, as suggested by the Open Contracting Data Standard, can help to ensure these links.

Tender phase

The challenge of the tender phase – in West Africa and beyond – is to prevent the intentional or inadvertent limiting of competition for public contracts. Several common troubles found in our study include:   

Monitoring the competitiveness of the tender process can reveal valuable information about the actual challenges faced by companies bidding on public contracts. Depending on the quality of data collected by governments, these data can often be used to understand how many bidders bid on various procurement types, the prevalence of disparities between procuring entities or regions, or whether other factors are influencing the capacity of qualified bidders to participate. Other analytics can help detect whether competition is real or if some suppliers are colluding to give the appearance of fair competition.

Award phase

We have observed two challenges related to the process of selecting a supplier:

While several of the countries studied exhibit good practices in areas related to these challenges, none of the countries offers the full suite of feedback/redress mechanisms. This would include: 1) clear evaluation criteria established prior to the evaluation process; 2) a public summary of the evaluation; 3) opportunity for losing bidders to receive feedback; 4) opportunity for evaluation members to blow the whistle on unfair practices, and; 5) opportunity for losing bidders – and even the general public, as in Guinea – to protest the award. For participants and citizens to have confidence in the complaints process, complaints should be received by an independent body, with a public complaint and outcome summary, as in Nigeria.

Contract phase

Our next blog post on this topic will focus on data collection and public access. But this is the key challenge facing countries in the contract phase of the procurement process.

Publishing contract information is the only way to assure the public that contracts are being implemented effectively and on time. Because this information is not often available, many civil society organizations in the region monitor construction and works projects relying on budget data. This can create unnecessary confusion and give the appearance that malfeasance is taking place when it may not be.

Implementation phase

There are several challenges in this final stage of the contracting process, including a deficit of data disclosure:

Adoption of e-procurement solutions and integration with public financial management systems may reduce some of the barriers to on-time payment processing and facilitate payment tracking. They can furthermore facilitate the transfer of data necessary for civil society, private sector and audit agencies to conduct real-time and a posteriori oversight.

Some challenges can be resolved through an increase in political will and training: In Côte d’Ivoire, there have been 171 cases taken to court by the regulatory authority (ANRMP) since 2010, against 0 prior.

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