Public procurement lacks transparency

25 April 2019 | Government

An independent policy watchdog in Namibia continues to shine a spotlight on the serious troubles crippling Namibia's public procurement system and the body in charge, which has been riddled with lack of transparency and accountability despite the new regime's stated goals of enhancing those qualities.

The latest issue of the Procurement Tracker, an quarterly initiative launched in 2018 by the Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR) to monitor and track developments and issues within the Namibian public procurement sphere, states that successive reviews of the procurement systems in place and the body managing the processes “suggest a system in trouble and even in turmoil.”

The April Procurement Tracker notes that even though the 2015 public procurement law was meant to usher in a new era of enhanced transparency and accountability around public resources, “it's clear that the levels of transparency witnessed fall far short of the stated intentions of the Public Procurement Act.”

“At the heart of the systemic troubles is the Central Procurement Board of Namibia (CPBN), which has not publicly issued any sort of audit or accountability report to date, but which has attracted all the wrong headlines over the last 12 months, painting a picture of an organisation afflicted by severe organisational and management dysfunctions,” IPPR research associate Frederico Links writes in the report.



The Tracker states that an overview of numerous reports on the CPBN have “exposed an agency characterised by non-compliance with rules, lack of internal accountability, a governance culture of secrecy, persistent executive level infighting and institutional paralysis, coupled with perennial understaffing and lack of expertise.”



Referring to finance minister Calle Schlettwein's budget statement in March, Links says the minister “effectively, but understatedly, admitted that the new public procurement system was not functioning as it should.”



Schlettwein noted that “implementation and capacity challenges arose” during the implementation of the procurement system and assured the country that measures would be implemented to improve and enhance the functioning of the system.



The IPPR's Tracker warns that with the Namibian government's announcement of an increase in development spending for the 2019/20 financial year, “dealing with the systemic weaknesses of the public procurement system should now become an overriding priority.”



Links said despite Schlettwein's statement that “the public procurement law and institutional arrangements are in place, creating enhanced objectivity and transparency in the procurement process”, in fact the public procurement system has been shown to “substantially fail the transparency test.”







One by one



The first issue of the Procurement Tracker, published in July 2018, dealt with the implementation of the act.



It stressed the lack of transparency within the public procurement realm “even as the new procurement dispensation was meant to inject greater transparency into public procurement practices.”



The issue noted that “with exemptions and other forms of discretionary decision-making reportedly having become the norm in public procurement since 1 April 2017 and aside from public entities publishing tender notifications in some newspapers, by some estimations, the transparency situation is even worse now than what it was under the old Tender Board of Namibia system.”







No compliance



The launch issue also noted that while the procurement law calls for the implementation of various transparency inducing mechanisms, by July 2018 “such mechanisms are hardly visible across the public sector, such as a reasonably detailed accounting of procurement practices on public entities' websites, through listings and summary reports.”



In July 2018, even the CPBN did not maintain a functional website.



The latest edition notes that to date the practice “hardly seems to have improved”, and while many public entities advertise their public procurement calls in national newspaper, they mostly still do not make such calls available on their websites, in line with legislative requirements.



According to the IPPR's research, the agriculture ministry issued 38 procurement calls between April 2018 and March 2019, which while advertised in newspapers, have not been listed on the ministry's website.



There is still almost no information available publicly on direct procurement activities of state bodies and exempted procurement initiatives, which the IPPR research has shown to “still account for a large proportion of state sector purchasing of goods and services.”



Further, as of March this year, procurement “corruption and waste, and the use of exemptions, continue to undermine government claims of systematic improvements,” the procurement tracker states.

JANA-MARI SMITH

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