The House of Representatives has mandated its joint committees on Public Procurement and Finance to investigate the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP) over allegations of failure to enforce compliance, PHILIP NYAM reports
The House of Representatives last week resolved to investigate the alleged failure of the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP) to enforce its constitutional powers.
This decision was consequent upon the endorsement of a motion sponsored by Hon. Afe Olowookere (APC, Ondo) on “the need to investigate the failure of Bureau of Public Procurement to enforce its powers.”
Leading debate on the motion, Olowookere said that BPP was established in 2007 and vested with powers to harmonise existing government policies and practices on public procurement in order to ensure probity, accountability and transparency in the procurement process.
According to him, BPP is to also establish pricing standards and benchmarks and ensure the application of fair, competitive, transparent, value-for-money standards and practices in the procurement process. The motion was unanimously adopted by members, when it was put to a voice vote by the Speaker, Hon. Yakubu Dogara. Of course, being an investigative motion, lawmakers were not allowed to contribute to the debate since everything that needed to be said on the issue would be during the investigation.
Consequently, the House mandated its Committee on Public Procurement and Anti-Corruption to investigate the allegation of failure of the BPP to exercise its powers on public procurement processes and to report back its findings within six weeks for further legislative action.
It is a known fact that the BPP is a brain child of Mrs. Oby Ezekwesili under the Chief Olusegun Obasanjo led administration between 1999 and 2007, although it was a project sponsored by the World Bank after it conducted the Country Procurement Assessment (CPAR) of the Nigerian public procurement system and discovered that the nation’s system was flout with many inadequacies.
The World Bank then discovered that Nigeria did not possess a public procurement law and there was no institution with the responsibility for issuing policy direction on public procurement as well as no defined standards for conducting procurement.
As a result, public procurement was characterised by irregularities and fraud. It was therefore, as a reaction to the recommendations in the CPAR, that the Obasanjo administration initiated the enactment of a Public Procurement Act (PPA) in 2007 to govern public procurement by federal agencies.
This is also known as “due process” in government circles. From the tone of the motion and its prayers, the joint committee will be looking at how the BPP has fared in terms of public procurement regulation. In other words, the bureau is expected to have achieved some milestones from the adoption of specific best practices.
These best practices may be listed as competition, transparency, integrity, best value and efficiency.
Of course, the key goal of public procurement regulation is often referred to as best value or value-for-money. Incidentally, as the motion clearly stated, value-formoney is duly entrenched in the BPP Act.
Some analysts however wonder why an agency of government, which has been given constitutional powers to perform certain functions, would be accused of failing to exercise its mandated. But before the House conducts its investigation, some procurement experts have been speaking on the challenges faced by the BPP in the country.
In a paper titled: “A comparative analysis of the Nigerian public procurement Act against international best practices,” Sope Williams Elegbe, submitted that in interviews conducted with procurement officials, in July 2011, it was clear that the issue of the capacity of procurement officials remains a challenge.
He said there was a clear difference in levels of understanding of the procurement function between procurement officials in high profile and low profile ministries, with high profile ministries possessing staff with a higher degree of understanding. According to him, there are vast differences in the resources made available to staff to carry out the procurement function depending on the ministry concerned.
“This lack of capacity affects in many cases, the ability of the procuring authority to properly follow the procurement rules and thus obtain the required outcome from a procurement procedure”, he stated. The issue of staff is very germane.
In a country where the process of recruitment is largely influenced by godfathers, who often sacrifice merit on the altar of ethnicity, religion and other factors, such issues are bound to occur. Most people are occupying offices they lack the capacity to function but since they have someone in high places behind them, there are posted to do such jobs.
Again, training and re-training of staff is a major problem in the country as once people are recruited, they are left to their own devices and no further training is given to them.
Another factor advanced by Elegbe was the involvement of politicians in the procurement process. He opined that the involvement of politicians in the procurement process was a serious problem, which needs to be given urgent attention to prevent forestalling the growth of Nigeria’s nascent procurement system.
It is common knowledge that top ranking politicians and public officials often influence the outcome of the procurement process by putting undue pressure on civil servants who feel unable to refuse to bend to this pressure. In other words, the procurement process is manipulated at the instance of the interested politician and contracts awarded to the person or firm in whom the politician has an interest.
This has led to several uncompleted high profile projects, in which contractors were paid upfront and absconded with federal funds or which were completed at prices high in excess of the original contract price. Perhaps, if the committee digs deeper, most of the National Assembly members will be indicted as majority of them are big time contractors executing government contracts using their influence.
The allegations of corruption in the award of contract in the Presidential Initiative on North East (PINE) against the suspended Secretary to Government of the Federation (SGF), Engr. Babachir Lawal present itself here.
If these allegations are true, it is a clear indication of how politicians manipulate the system. Hence questions will be asked on the position of the BPP in matters such as this. Perhaps, the BPP is limited as to which contracts to assess.
As the committee is set to commence this all important investigation, it would be worthwhile to urge its members to go the whole hog and identify the loopholes in the procurement act itself as well as the main factors militating the enforcement of the BPP Act by the agency.
It is unfortunate that corruption has eaten deep into the nation’s body fabric and as such it is difficult to change the psyche of an average businessman or public servants towards the observance of the laws of the land. If the BPP is working it means the anti-corruption war of this administration will be partially won but if it is faltering, corruption can never abate.