Can value for money procurement stimulate Sierra Leone’s post Ebola recovery?

Sheriff Mahmud Ismail

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 22 January 2015

Auditor-General-Mrs.-Lara-Taylor-PearceSuccessive reports of the Auditor- General (AG) – (photo), have consistently identified non-compliance of procurement procedures as a serious challenge in the country’s public financial management system.

In the executive summary of the 2011 report, the AG stated that; “We encountered many instances of breaches in procurement procedures. Several significant lapses were observed … resulting in incomplete transactions and hence unsatisfactory service delivery.”

The 2012 report was even more critical. It says that “failure to comply with procurement laws and regulations remains endemic and is a bigger problem to tackle successfully”.

The report went on to relate those procurement failures to loss of revenue: “Our audit work on the Public Accounts and in MDAs suggests procurement deviations from laws and regulations amounting to Le24, 225,042,005.”

With those gloomy findings, one would expect that the 2013 report should have shown some improvement; rather, it makes for grim reading.

“Uncompetitive and unfair procurement processes, inadequate contract management and missing tender documentation were observed during the course of the audit. In many cases there was no evidence of fair, transparent and competitive processes being followed in awarding contracts. For instance, we found that MDAs undertook Le 9.2 billion in procurements for which the PPA and Regulations were not followed. In addition, salient supporting documents such as; performance bonds, GST returns, and contractual agreements covering Le 13.3 billion of procurements, though requested, were not presented for audit.”

Experts say, in many countries, public procurement accounts for about 20-30% of GDP.

120104corruption2Therefore, if the processes and procedures are not properly handled, a huge chunk of public funds can be unaccounted for.

Clearly, procurement has a reputational implication and the World Bank takes it seriously.

The World Bank Procurement Hub Coordinator, Chief Bayo Awosemusi explains that: “It is an important activity in project implementation and serves as a link between commitment of a loan and its disbursement.”

In the quest to supporting the government to reverse the systemic failures as highlighted in the AG’s report, the Bank is engaging the government, through its   Public Financial Management Consolidation and Improvement Project –  aimed at strengthening the capacities of MDAs, Local Council, and Regulatory Agencies to conduct their procurement activities, consistent with the PPR Act and Regulations. Substantial funding has been provided to cater to these needs.

Regarding World Bank funded projects, measures are in place to ensure that the principles and procedures are being followed.

As far as procurement is concerned, projects are largely being audited by private sector auditors, ensuring more rigorous due diligence processes are in place, such as prior reviews and post procurement reviews.

World_Bank_Logo-450x350-300x233Prior to the outbreak of the Ebola epidemic, the World Bank’s procurement team had been engaging its projects counterparts, the media and other stakeholders with regards to the Bank’s procurement policies.

This is to ensure a move towards achieving the broader objective of “value for money” in procurement processes within the World Bank funded projects.

In April 2014, the World Bank procurement team organized a two-day training workshop which targeted Project Coordinators, Directors, Procurement Specialists, Officers, Assistants, Consultants and Project Accountants.

About 21 representatives, some of whom had not had approved procurement plans, participated.

The objectives of the workshop were to review the 2013 procurement plans in order to identify any bottlenecks and develop strategies to avoid them in future; align 2014 procurement activities with project development objectives; adopt procurement methods that would lead to smarter procurement implementation with stronger development on the ground, in line with revised thresholds; adopt strategies for quick disbursement; exchange of experience on project implementation; and promote timely public disclosure of approved and updated procurement plans, in line with relevant guidelines.

Supported by the Procurement Hub Coordinator, the World Bank Country Office procurement and financial management teams reviewed the various projects’ procurement plans.

The training sessions covered procurement implementation and risks management for results;  managing for results in the annual work planning process; results-based procurement planning;  contract administration and monitoring; procurement cycle tracking system (PROCYS); procurement implementation for results – the flexibilities; and issues observed in post procurement reviews.

During the workshop, the various project teams finalized the project procurement plans for 2014.

However, while there is evidence of capability among many of the participants, it was clear that continuous capacity building was still required for others.

But observers say that in addition to capability issues, there were other very important factors standing in the way of tackling the country’s procurement challenges.

Admittedly, there is need for strong punitive sanctions taken against infringements, while attitudinal change will also be required.

The Auditor-General’s report of 2012 states that; “The governance, legal and enforcement framework contained in the National Procurement Act 2004, is basically well designed but the will to make it work seems to be missing.”

As Sierra Leone strives towards recuperation from the devastation of the Ebola outbreak, observers say, a better appreciation of the Auditor General’s recommendations might achieve ‘value-for-money and save much needed resources, which could be invested into other recovery programs.

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