ASEAN meeting explores ways of professionalizing public procurement to meet development challenges

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Construction of a sky train in Bangkok, Thailand. Photo: Seksan Pipattanatikanunt/World Bank
In the past, procurement (purchasing) was not considered to be a specialist function but one of the numerous duties that administrators performed in their respective government departments. However, today it is acknowledged that procurement has become an extremely complex and crucial undertaking coupled with the need to ensure value for money in the use of public resources to enhance the living conditions of its citizens.

The responsibilities have radically changed from that of an administrative service function to a proactive and strategic one. Unfortunately, in most jurisdictions the procurement function is still not considered a specific profession and consequently, building procurement professional expertise to meet development challenges remains an unfinished agenda.

Policymakers and procurement practitioners across the ten ASEAN countries converged in Bangkok, supported by the World Bank, to share experiences and best practices on this subject at the ASEAN Countries Public Procurement Forum. Under the theme "Professionalization of Public Procurement to Deliver Sustainable Development Outcomes,” the forum brought together over 75 participants including 50 delegates from ASEAN countries, six observers from China, Bangladesh, Marshall Islands, Papua New Guinea and Samoa, as well as  development partners.

Hosted by Thailand, His Excellency Apisak Tantivorawong, Minister of Finance, in his opening address highlighted the government’s commitment to professionalizing the public procurement function in Thailand. While the World Bank Director for Regional Partnerships, Malaysia and Thailand, Ulrich Zachau, challenged participants to think about how professionals, including government procurement staff, could better find a balance between taking risky decisions with the intention of delivering value for money and without fear for not complying with the rules.

Huge amounts are involved in governments’ budgets annually, shared Vinay Sharma, Director for Solutions and Innovations in Public Procurement, who emphasized that through a 1% saving in public procurement a lot more services could be provided for citizens. He reiterated the considerable progress the World Bank has made over the years in providing support for capacity building and institutional strengthening in public procurement and assured further efforts to continue working with governments to promote public procurement professionalization and competency-based capacity building.

Presentations delivered by international experts on different aspects of professionalization as well as member countries’ reports and future plans generated a lot of discussion. There were also panel discussions to delve deeper and share practical experience in specific areas on capacity building and certification.

The participants reached a consensus that two clear distinct types of procurement have emerged over the years in government projects. The first comprises low cost, low risk, repetitive and sometimes high volume of procurement which should be better managed using electronic procurement systems and framework contracts. In contrast, large, complex and high risk investments which requires high level skills and experience to deliver value for money and achieve sustainable results should be handled exclusively by properly trained and certified procurement professionals whose actions are characterized by a high standard of integrity to engender trust. Participants agreed that professionalization of public procurement is important, different approaches could be used, and should be proportional to the level of career stream based on the skill sets, competences and capabilities required to execute the respective functions.

Delegates used the occasion to express their sincere appreciation to the outgoing East Asia and the Pacific Regional Procurement Manager, Elmas Arisoy, for her vision and initiative in bringing the public procurement policymakers and practitioners in the ASEAN countries together to create a promising community of practice within a short period and wished her well.


Adu-Gyamfi Abunyewa

Senior Procurement Specialist

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