Gambia: The Problems Within Procurement

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Dear Editor,

 

With a flurry of investors flocking into the country looking for quick profits & millions in aid waiting for allocation, I aim to take a closer look at issues of public concern pertaining to the country’s procurement industry. For the record, the article is not premised as a witch-hunt, nor meant to drag any official through the mud. What it is, however, a careful and necessary assessment of that industry for the very fact that tens of millions of dalasi worth of project acquisition is determinant on the art of procurement. In Gambia government terms, Procurement is the process of ensuring accountability & transparency in the use and management of public resources. This involves the acquisition of goods & services from external sources via tendering or competitive bidding, under the remit of GPPA.

If sincerity is anything to go by, surely the management of Gambia Public Procurement Authority will be the first to raise hands and admit that over the years standards and accountability with public finances weren’t met. And I write in the knowledge that some of these officials were operating under intense pressure during dictatorship mindful of Jammeh’s love for money. But then again where were ethics – two wrongs still don’t make it right. A new day has dawned however & Procurement officials need be aware of their valuable roles ensuring credibility with public money. I honestly believe that GPPA can be the best in the region, or Africa perhaps, although, Botswana currently boasts the best procurement system on the continent. We therefore appeal to the EU Banjul office to expand & Maintain the competency based & needs assessment training of procurement officials across all layers of government.

A deserved high praise & thanks is cordially reserved for EU Foreign Policy Chief, Federica Mogherini for standing by the Gambian People at a time of great need. And I appreciate her personal touch with the presidency & for living up to promises in terms of financial package assigned for Gambia. The country’s regulators ought to be aware of new and inventive methods all the time as a clampdown on corruption for the fact that there’ll always be bent officials looking to cheat the system. In the United Kingdom, procurement offices are internalised within centralised agencies & across local government in ensuring compliance. As such the leadership could look to policy transfer, and be cognizant of new developments around the world to enhance its staff to higher levels of excellence.

Linking procurement systems to procurement outcomes 

A recent World Bank Enterprise Survey in 88 countries with data on procurement systems from PEFA (Public Expenditure and Financial Accountability) finds that in countries with more transparent procurement systems, firms are more likely to participate in public procurement markets.  Moreover, firms report paying fewer and smaller kickbacks to officials in those countries with effective and independent complaints mechanisms, and effective external auditing systems. Therefore, GPPA should be aware that exceptions to open competition in tendering must be explicitly justified. Auditors should also look at prevailing procurement practices on smaller firms if they are disadvantage. Larger firms tend to pay bigger bribes as our investigations on the MGI-Gamtel Gateway scandal show. And government was spot-on for the bold steps taken terminating that corrupt deal.

In an effort to address all forms of corruption, GPPA has to conduct needs assessment in terms of quality or cost, or the appropriate choice of projects. The Parliament sub-committee on standards and ethics also need to conduct periodic assessment on the accuracy and comprehensiveness of databases on procurement contracts & life cycle. Reflecting on the secretive waste management deals between KMC & foreign firms, an independent audit of all area councils, governorships, and public utilities is urgently warranted.

New Money & Procurement

The flow of new-money into the nation’s coffers safely tucked at the Central Bank is a welcome sight to all Gambians. In the days under Jammeh, the culture of kickbacks became part and parcel of the job. From policemen, the army, immigration, procurement officers, Ports, etc all participated in naked-corruption. Our research has shown that Corruption is disproportionately rife among the male workforce. We also learnt that when women are part of the high table, better decisions tend to be made. The notion that women need to be led is patronising at best. Chancellor Merkel has turned out to be the most successful leader Germany had in terms of economic success. Some of the most successful FTSE 100 companies are led by women. And some of the finest and hardened activists mobilised over the many years in ousting the dictator are Gambian women, and I dare say without them, unimaginable without them:

During internship at a major city council in England, it became obvious that an efficient procurement system encourages transparency, competition, and trust, and reduce transactions cost. As millions continue to pour into the government’s coffers with special interest cosying up to decision makers, there should be monitoring and periodic review of the procurement process as a check against favouritism. It has come to knowledge that certain businessmen in & outside of the Gambia are looking to establish TV stations. And if reports on QTV’s plans are true, PURA need to establish the forces behind it in avoiding conflict of interest. Moreover, an independent complaints mechanism will help deter favouritism & kickbacks in view of prosecution.

Solution

The country’s procurement agency need to be scrapped as it was setup to serve the dictatorship. The best solution in rectifying the abysmal failures & wastage of public funds is for well-trained procurement personnel to be accommodated and internalise within various ministries and parastatals with an external and parliamentary oversight over them. Clearly, the ousted Jammeh regime should be a lesson to all those who reflect, because the Gambian people won’t tolerate mediocrity anymore. In the case of an energised diaspora nothing shall be accepted but the very best & excellence. In them you’ll find the personification of loyalty & love for country, and in their offspring, the next generation dreaming of a better Gambia.

Gibril Saine, LONDON

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