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Strengthening public procurement in Africa: a conversation with Joyeuse Uwingeneye

Joyeuse Uwingeneye joins us from a glass high-rise building in downtown Kigali. It’s a clear day and the city is visible far into the distance through her window on the 10th floor. 

It’s an appropriate workplace for the woman spearheading efforts to increase transparency and oversight of public spending in Rwanda, by digitalizing the platform running the country’s public procurement and professionalizing its workforce and processes. 

Public procurement, one-third of spending or more of every country, is critical to economic development and sustainability. “Sustainability needs to be seen as a wider issue, not just green purchasing and the environment, but also supporting women businesses and local economic development. The government needs to think about the local communities, about creating jobs. Procurement authorities become the initiators,“ says Uwingeneye.

Uwingeneye is the Director General of Rwanda’s Public Procurement Authority (RPPA), Rwanda’s sole regulatory body for organizing, analyzing, and supervising public procurement. With a background in banking, finance, and economics, she worked at Rwanda’s Development Board and in the private sector before entering public procurement and she’s a current member of the MAPS steering committee for the period of 2024-2026.

She’s also just been elected President of the African Public Procurement Network (APPN), which convenes procurement authorities from 54 countries and she emphasizes the importance of building on existing foundations to strengthen the network’s support for public procurement in Africa. 

Her priorities for this one-year term as President of the APPN include fostering collaboration with international partners such as the World Bank, the African Development Bank, the Islamic Development Bank, and Open Contracting Partnership, as well as bringing onboard other new regional and global partners. These partnerships, Uwingeneye believes, are instrumental in advancing the APPN’s agenda and strengthening procurement practices across the continent. «The major objective is to ensure that we build a network that is strong, that is supporting public procurement in Africa.»

“We are not all at the same pace of development when it comes to public procurement. The APPN was also created as a platform for knowledge sharing and understanding where others are.” 

Rwanda has useful experiences to share with the rest of the region. Kicking off with a pilot in 2016, it built a pioneering e-procurement system and is now working on ensuring its adoption by all government agencies in the country. The Umucyo platform is used by 1194 government agencies down to district hospitals – an increase from just over 200 in 2022 – with more than 13,800 suppliers and 26,800 contracts awarded. 

It is connected to 24 information systems, including the Revenue Authority, banks and other financial institutions systems, the public financial management system (IFMIS), and the Registrar General. Upgrades to the system, set to be completed later this year, will make Rwandan procurement data available in the Open Contracting Data Standard format for the first time. 

“Building the e-GP systems that show the transparency of overall procurement is important to me, as it will help check that our national systems are ready and strong.”

How to make e-GP systems work

A lot of countries in the region have been struggling to digitize their public procurement processes efficiently (check out our guide to building better systems with advice from reformers in five African countries). 

In Rwanda, it helped that e-GP was included in a top policy priority seeking to make all government business electronic by 2025. “There was a clear political agenda to digitize the process. We had a committee of key institutions,” says Uwingeneye.

“We bought an existing system from Korea and customized it to the Rwandan context. When this was introduced, there was a tight deadline. We had seen what happened in other countries, where it took three months or more to just have one module, such as for the procurement plans. So we invested in the team working on the system. While the Koreans supported us with two to three experts in the beginning, we’ve learned it ourselves and took over.”

“So we started with a pilot of nine institutions and then opened up. The system is decentralized, with institutions having capacity in-house. We at RPPA coordinate, monitor, and provide extensive training.“

The latest innovations of the e-procurement system include an e-contracts module and integrating payments through the e-invoicing module, so the full procurement process is now electronic. 

Rwanda also introduced sanctions for delayed payments and addressed a common issue of suppliers not submitting all required documents. Now, when you click on “submit invoice”, the documents have to be provided. 

It also helped that the country invested heavily in ICT and a fiber optic internet network. “We didn’t struggle in terms of connectivity,” she says.

Using data to address fraud and corruption

The increased digitalization has provided new opportunities to identify bad behavior and corruption risks. 

“The number one source of data is the e-GP system, starting at the planning stage. Every step has a clear action and timeline. This helps us ensure the integrity of the process,” highlights Uwingeneye. 

It’s easier to evaluate the suitability of suppliers now, since information about their past projects can be checked in the e-GP system. And if potential irregularities are flagged, the due diligence carried out by investigators is traceable, reducing the risk of bias. 

Rwanda’s debarment regime was also revised in 2022. For example, the change removed heavy sanctions such as a debarment of five or seven years in order to incentivize vendors to take corrective action to fix bad practices and reduce the economic impact of blacklisting companies. It also introduced a fine of 5% for the contract value or bidding price for violating procurement rules. Currently, the first violation leads to debarment for one year. The penalty increases to two years for the second violation. Repeated violations will result in indefinite debarment. 

People have started to behave from the time the fine was introduced for faults such as poor performance, misrepresentation of facts and providing false information, or a false certificate of good performance.

Introducing administrative fines for violations has been another powerful deterrent, says Uwingeneye.

More opportunities for women businesses and youth

Several countries in the region, such as Senegal, Tanzania or Uganda, are working on making public procurement more inclusive and integrating the voices of women and youth. 

In Rwanda, women must have a 30% representation in leadership across the government. This is now coming to public procurement as well. 

“Women-led businesses are not bidding for the big projects,” says Uwingeneye. “So we started to look at the obstacles, for example at requirements for guarantees. If we want to develop a country, we need to invest into women and youth.”

Inclusion does not only mean providing more opportunities for say women-led businesses:  Procurement for Innovation has been introduced as a tool to attract young innovators and start-ups and contribute to Rwanda’s development agenda.

The RPPA is also reviewing who supplies produce for school meals. “We are looking into supporting small SMEs, mainly producers, local cooperatives and understanding gaps such as managing supply chains.”

Contract monitoring

It’s expected that the public procurement information being opened up by the RPPA will be beneficial for community oversight efforts, such as Rwanda’s Contracts Monitoring Coalition, which is being led by Transparency Rwanda with our support. The coalition aims to coordinate and collaborate in procurement monitoring activities, to get any problems identified fixed, and to advocate for improved processes and policy. It includes representatives from both government and civil society such as Rwanda’s Public Procurement Authority, the Institute of Engineers of Rwanda, the Institute of Architects of Rwanda, the Office of the Ombudsman, the Private Sector Federation, the Rwanda Governance Board, the Office of the Auditor General, and the Association des Entrepreneurs du Batiment et Travaux Publics (AEBTP). 

Does procurement cause delays or set the agenda?

In Uwingeneye’s view, one of the biggest misconceptions about public procurement is that it delays everything. “I’ve seen this argument used often. In reality, it is down to failing to plan properly, do proper market surveys, or proper procurement processes.” 

“Procurement does not start from the publication of tenders. It starts from the time you are planning for the budget. You need to have visibility of what you are going to procure.»

Information on all of Rwanda’s public procurement will soon be published as open data following the Open Contracting Data Standard, increasing this visibility further for all stakeholders from government to businesses to civil society. 

As Rwanda prepares to host the fourth General Assembly of the APPN this fall, the agenda for advancing public procurement across Africa will be packed. 

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