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Rebuilding social trust: The role of private sector in public procurement






By Gift Maxwell

The objectives of the public procurement reforms in Nigeria are to ensure accountability, attain probity and transparency, encourage competitiveness, entrench value for money standards and professionalize the procurement practice.  These objectives are in tandem with the principles of open contracting (disclosure + participation). As an opinion, I strongly believe that participation here should also include the private sector. Interestingly, bidders (contractors/ suppliers/ consultants) are key players in the public procurement process.

Now let us look at the benefits they stand to gain from these reforms/ open contracting.

MORE OPPORTUNITY FOR BUSINESSES: Opening the system will encourage competitiveness in public procurement, and competition drives innovation. Greater accessibility to tender information alone will largely increase the number of bidders competing for projects.  Small and medium enterprises will also be able to “flex their muscles”, while already existing contractors will be held to higher standards in terms of project delivery. This will certainly spur up some innovative ideas as businesses will be left with no option than to show their creative abilities in delivering public services.

FAIRER COMPETITION: To meet the welfare and security needs of the citizenry, government is bound to transact/interact with private sector (a lot!). However, the lack of trust that exists between the government and private sector is currently at an all-time high. The aching question therefore is, “why would business owners or service providers want to deal with a government they don’t trust”? It is therefore apparent that, for this relationship to be mutually beneficial, a greater degree of trust is needed.

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PROBITY AND TRANSPARENCY: in public procurement will most definitely increase the integrity of the government. This is of utmost importance because if the contractors feel like they are not being given a level playing field to compete in the process, then we have a problem. Opening up the contracting space is an avenue to address the issue of nepotism and possibly allow for greater business development. This means that expertise will be rewarded as the contract will eventually be awarded to the “lowest evaluated responsive bid” as stipulated by the Public Procurement Act 2007.

PROFESSIONALIZING THE PROCUREMENT PRACTICE IN NIGERIA: will also help the private sector in terms of saving costs and business time, this is because it will largely reduce the administrative burden on the contractor, in terms of time spent applying for bids etc. Opening up the system also allows for better decision making by the private sectors themselves, as data analysis and statistics that will aid them in making informed decisions will be available across all stages of the contracting cycle.

It will be in our common interest if the private sector can develop a “call out culture” after all the shouting side remains the winning side.

On May 17, 2017, Nigeria’s Acting President, Prof. Yemi Osibanjo signed an executive order on transparency and improving the business environment in Nigeria. The executive order contained far reaching measures with direct benefits for Nigerian businesses as a proof of the FG’s commitment and determination to ease the business environment. How do you ease the business environment without an open contracting system?

Just to digress a little bit, this same ease of doing business order says, “There shall be no touting at the airport”, can someone please raise their hands if they haven’t been harassed recently at the airport? From the officers in uniform to the lady patting down your body, there is always someone asking “anything for the boys”. The question here is how ready are we to implement?

You don’t even have to be a business owner or be a contractor per say, but I would like you to imagine for ten seconds only (any longer than that, you may think I placed you under a spell) if information on the entire contracting process was open? Information in this context refers to planning, tender, awards and contract implementation.  If you are still unsure about the benefit of open contracting, you can look it up here.

Open your eyes!! Wake up!! Is this possible? Yes it is! After all, the Nigerian government, in 2016, committed to implementing the Open Contracting Data Standards (OCDS). Of course, pledges and commitments are great, but implementation is always where the problems lies.

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We can all agree that the 2016 commitment to the OCDS was a step in the right direction and that, to a large extent, the government has played their role. In addition, civil societies are constantly calling for open and transparent systems, but what is the private sector doing? Contractors are certainly best placed to also bring to the fore issues of abnormalities and sharp practices in public procurement in Nigeria. Now, one must ask, where is their voice? Why is it not audible?

This is a call for collective action to ALL contractors/public service providers in Nigeria, a call to demand for the implementation of open contracting principles in Nigeria. The government, our government, YOUR government needs to hear you loud and clear in one voice!

You may be a contractor, business owner, ultimately you are a citizen and we are all accountable!

Gift Maxwell currently serves as the Budeshi Program Director with the Public and Private Development Centre (PPDC). She is very passionate about using Open Data advocacy to drive improved transparency, accountability and citizen participation in governance.  An avid supporter of open government, she was a member of the team that successfully advocated for the Adoption of the Open Contracting Data Standards (OCDS) in Nigeria by using the Budeshi  (www.budeshi.ng) platform to show the utility of the OCDS.

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