The amendment to the procurement act is not good enough

The passage last week by the Senate of the Public Procurement Act 2007 (amendments) Bill 2019 has raised several questions that border on transparency and accountability in the public space. Aside increasing mobilisation of local contractors from 15 to 30 per cent, the Senate also reduced the time frame for contract award to two weeks for processing and four days for issuance of certificates to qualified contractors. While Senate President Ahmad Lawan has expressed confidence that the procurement process would now be faster, we are worried about the way and manner the legislation was handled by the lawmakers.

The advertisement was placed in the media on 19th November, inviting memoranda from some listed institutions with only one week notice while the public hearing was scheduled for 26th and 27th November, 2019. A week later, precisely on 4th December, the Senate passed the amendment bill that has practically reversed the modest gains that have been made in the procurement process in recent years.

The basic principles of procurement are transparency, fairness and equal treatment of bidders, value for money and accountability. Most of the proposed amendments by the Senate are antithetical to these principles. For instance, increasing the advance payment to contractors to 30 per cent, as good as it may seem, negates one of the requirements of eligibility to participate in public procurement, which is financial capability. A person without financial investment has nothing at stake in a project. Such a person could use the 30 per cent being offered to deliver poor quality job and, in the event of any disagreement, walk away. That has been the case in Nigeria over the years since most of the portfolio contractors who operate in the country do not have traceable addresses.

Also, the proposal to make ministers sign off on every project before awards, and for them to chair evaluation committee, is to make procurement a tool for political patronage. In societies where transparency and accountability count, procurement is usually insulated from political considerations as value and cost are more important parameters for the award of contracts.

The National Assembly, especially the current Senate, has done a lot by seeking to focus on its main assignment which is legislation rather than engage in needless muscle flexing with the executive. That is commendable. We also understand the problem the lawmakers are trying to cure with the amendment of the Public Procurement Act but their prescriptions are counter-productive. Besides, they are putting the blame in the wrong direction.

Lack of budget implementation is basically due to two major issues: lack of procurement planning capacity by the MDAs, and non-release of funds to even pay for certified jobs. Besides, over budgeting is at the core of our non-budget implementation. We are admitting too many projects more than our resources can carry in annual budgets. The National Assembly members also add projects that have not been designed for implementation.

In all, it is important for the National Assembly to take a pause and look at the law as a tool for good governance. The lawmakers have already increased the 2020 budget by N450 billion with projects that have not been designed. How do you blame the procurement law for such actions? It is perhaps better for the act to be repealed entirely than allow the amendments being proposed. The MDAs can as well implement the budget as they want rather than create the impression that we still have a procurement law in Nigeria.