By Allieu Sahid Tunkara
A report on procurement activities of 134 public procuring entities undertaken in 2018 is set to be tabled in parliament this Tuesday by the Minister of Finance, Jacob Jusu Saffa.
Parliament will vet the report after its presentation before it is made public.
The objective of the assessment report is to provide a clear picture of all procurement activities embarked upon by government agencies almost two years back.
The report would help identify weaknesses in the public procurement system to support the development of evidence-based public procurement policies, strategies and future reforms.
NPPA Chief, Ibrahim Brima Swarray, elated for the publication of the procurement report, saw it as the fulfilment of an important milestone in Sierra Leone’s procurement landscape.
“With the publication of this report, I can proudly stand up and tick off one major milestone that we have been able to achieve as it is clearly contained in section 14(2)(m) of the public procurement Act,” Mr Swarray said.
Mr Swarray also told Nightwatch he was gratified to see the completion of the report which he referred to as “arduous and daunting journey.”
The report titled: ‘Annual Public Procurement Assessment Report, 2018’ contains two basic segments referred to as first and second generations.
Sierra Leone, according to the report, has undergone what is usually termed in procurement circle as “first generation” procurement reforms.
The term: “first generation,” within the context of the report, refers to legal and regulatory enhancements as well as the creation of a cadre to undertake procurement and reform of the rest of the institutional framework.
NPPA, the report says, has embarked on several initiatives centred on “second generation” procurement reforms.
The second generation focuses on the overall development of the human resources whose activities impact on and drive the practice.
The expected outcome, according to the report, should result in greater adherence to processes and procedures with the aim of achieving strict compliance with the law.
It is hoped that the successful implementation of these processes and procedures contained in the report would greatly rely on support from the executive and legislative arms of government.
The report also pointed out that the second generation reforms are on-going.
“The reforms are centred on the introduction of electronic procurement to further overall improvement in the procurement sphere,” a portion of the report reads.
Deepening overall improvement of the country’s procurement sector, the report further states, is aimed at enhancing the integrity of the procurement system, ensure the professionalisation of the procurement function, strengthen accountability and performance measures, work within the wider public financial management reforms and collaborate, through information sharing, with other key government stakeholders such as the Anti-Corruption Commission and the Audit Service Sierra Leone.
The report also claimed that despite the number of years procurement practice was integrated into the country’s public sector administration, execution of procurement processes by procurement entities remain “dismally low.”
It also indicated that over-use and abuse of the ‘Request for Quotation’ (FFQ) method of procurement continue to hinder the achievement of savings through the use of framework contracts for the repetitive purchase of goods and medium term value items.
The excessive use of the RFQ, the report says, by some procurement entities indicates a deliberate effort to undermine competition by splitting procurement activities to keep them below the threshold of open competitive bidding.
According to the report, procurement professionals do not make effort to explore innovative strategies that would improve on their turn-around time, reduce on the administrative cost of doing business and produce tangible benefits and cost-saving.
Weak contracts management resulting in major delivery delays, specifications deviations and poor quality of supplies, lack of adherence to contractual terms and obligations, under reporting or selective reporting among others are key findings contained in the 2018 procurement report.
Making special reference to previous public sector reform and audit reports on procurement activities, the aforementioned anomalies are compounded by the “abysmal state of records management in Ministries, Departments and Agencies of government.
The report refers to the poor records management as a “fatal flaw” in public sector management.
“It is unthinkable, yet a fact, that upon request for documents, procurement personnel will claim they do not have records preceding their transfer to another entity as the last officer ‘took them along.’ This portrays a system that is endemically flawed,” the report also reads in part.
Almost invariably, the purchase of furniture and equipment by procuring entities is also captured by the report.
The report shows that 1,029 activities undertaken with a total expenditure of over Le40 Billion the equivalent of US$ 40M were related to purchase of furniture and equipment noting that no standards exist to guide the procurement of airline ticketing service.
“It is completely unregulated and also an additional avenue for leakages. Though we are aware of the many conditional variables that go into the pricing in this sector, yet the disparity between similar classes to the same destinations is glaring,” the report reads.
The report similarly indicated that the public sector being a purchaser of fuel, NPPA had sought in the past to prompt government to negotiate with the fuel suppliers for volume discount.
“Since this field has a very limited number of suppliers, obtaining the savings of a few hundred Leones per litre would produce a substantial amount of savings in this sector,” the report says.
On the positive side, the report went on, NPPA’s unrelenting insistence on the use of price norm and adherence to prices therein, price variations for similar items with similar specifications has been appreciably reduced.
NPPA was created in 2004 through an Act of Parliament as an autonomous, regulatory and oversight body in public procurement.
Procurement Regulations were developed in 2006 to complement the Act with step-by-step guidance on how to conduct procurement activities.
The first set of procurement officers in the civil service were employed in 2010 which resulted in the establishment of the ‘procurement cadre’ to provide professional and technical procurement services within procuring entities.
Public procurement is a strategic component in resource allocation and that if conducted in an efficient, transparent and competitive manner results in the effective delivery of public services.
In Sierra Leone, like in most developing nations, public procurement accounts for a significant portion of government expenditure.
In recognition of the fact above and with the support of development partners, Sierra Leone’s procurement system has undergone a number of reforms over the years mainly through experimentation with various forms of centralised and decentralised systems eventually culminating in the current fully decentralised system which has been embraced by government.
The procurement system was formally decentralised in 2004, and a comprehensive legal instrument was developed based on the model law of the UN Commission for Trade Law on the procurement of goods, works and services created as an autonomous regulatory body.