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2021 Open Contracting Champion: Professor Sope Williams-Elegbe

What does changing the status quo in public procurement mean to you?

Changing the status quo in public procurement means rethinking the moral hazards in public administration. By this I mean rethinking how we recruit and reward public officials. For too long, public official’s remuneration and rewards are not tied to their performance. Consequence management is almost non-existent, and we don’t think about what kinds of skills, personality types and ethical acumen we want public officials to have when we recruit. In practice, recruitment is highly nepotistic and anyone with the right connections can be recruited. The upshot of this is that we fill sensitive positions with people who lack the training, skills, capacity and ethical acumen to function in the public procurement space. Changing this and institutionalizing ethics through recruitment practices, compensation and progression decisions is the first thing that we need to change. Without addressing the moral hazard or the human element, other kinds of changes will fail.

COVID-19 showed us more than ever that the status quo isn’t working. What’s the #1 procurement lesson you’ve learned over the past year of the pandemic?

The unfortunate lesson I learnt was that our procurement systems in Africa are not fit for purpose and cannot handle any degree of “stress”.

What is the #1 question you would ask before trying to reform a public procurement system?

Is there the political will and real commitment for reform? Who wants change and who wants the status quo to remain?

If public procurement was an animal, which one do you think it would be and why?

An elephant. It is huge, complex, and cannot be hidden from the public.