Efficient public procurement plays a significant role in successful management of public resources, and acts as one of the problem solvers in implementing the government's annual development programme (ADP). Efficiency in resource management is pivotal for ensuring transparency and accountability in public procurement. In the early seventies most of the public procurement was done from funding of the donor organisations, and thus influence of these organisations in the inflow of external funding were prominent.
However, over the decades, public procurement in the country has experienced a remarkable change, especially with the introduction of electronic government procurement or e-GP. Some may like to term it a silent revolution, as private participation in the tenders has become much easier now. A registered contractor can see all the tenders of government procurement staying at home, even one can submit his/her completed document online. So far, as reported, more than 28,000 registered tenderers are enjoying the benefit of the e-GP and the number is increasing. There are about 1233 government organisations which usually float tenders for goods and services where a good number of private sector organisations participate. So, public procurement policy has shown an improvement. It is at least one step ahead now with the introduction of online submission.
Table-I shows that ADP amount has been increasing and in the year 2016-17, it is 1,107 billion taka. This huge expenditure, a significant portion of which is spent on public procurement, involves lengthy procedures, time and above all transparency in procuring goods and services and maintaining the quality of work.
A study done by BRAC identified 26 barriers for implementation of ADP, some of these are: delay in submission of project document, improper preparation of project proposals, absence of risk management issues in the proposals, delay in project approval, inadequate release and delayed release of fund; inadequate allocation of fund, delay in lining up / allocation and reimbursement of foreign aid, delay in agreement with donors etc etc. Through e-GP, initial stage of tender collection and proposal submission has been made easier. But there are many other constraints not addressed so far.
Project implementation within the stipulated time frame is a long-awaited issue, which increases sufferings of the people. Recently, infrastructure development has been given priority in ADP allocations, but a number of projects lingered more than the actual time causing a huge loss of public money, raising cost of the project much more that the usual.
True, e-GP has created enhanced opportunities for participation, and competition has also increased. Improving online professional and direct relations of Bangladesh's Public Purchase bodies and tenderers will need time. Private sector believes, there is policy discrimination in respect of local and foreign suppliers. International tenders are still beyond the scope. Online submission of tenders is there but there could be leakage any where. Trust building is thus very important. Presence of some vague and unnecessary terms may confuse tenderers, types of tenders are different for different projects, knowledge from the large sectoral players can be consulted.
Project Director plays a big role for time-bound implementation of projects. This is applicable for technical assistance project also. In some cases, quality and price needs to be balanced through some discretionary exercises-- not hampering the project objectives, for which expertise/professionalism has to be developed.
Implementation delay, cost enhancement, faulty designs detected at a later stage of the project are some of the common features that impede successful completion of projects. In some donor funded projects, procurement of machineries and related services involves discretion of the concern countries, and needs to be negotiated properly at the beginning of the project.
There are many policy reforms needed to improve the situation. Duty Draw Back sometimes does not work in a desired way as it normally takes more than 6 months, to get the reimbursement of duties paid. Though this issue is not directly related to procurement, it has a direct negative impact on the project costs. There could be a policy and a guideline for documentary requirements and this should be binding for both public and private sectors. Requirement of additional documents is one of the reasons for delay. Last but not the least, there should be measures to encourage women, by way of promoting women-owned firms so that they can also have their share in the economic development of the country.
The writer is CEO, Business Initiative Leading Development (BUILD), a partnership organization of DCCI, MCCI and CCI.