Successful procurement is not just a set of activities, it is a strategy


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 Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Photo: Tran Viet Duc / World Bank

Many Bank-financed projects, especially those implementing large and complex contracts continually face high risk of implementation delays, and procurement is the most frequently used scapegoat.

What has gone wrong in those cases?

At the onset, borrowers are requested to prepare a detailed procurement plan for the first 18 months of project implementation, which is carefully reviewed and approved by the Bank before loan negotiations and the projects are then declared "good to go."
But the reality is almost never that rosy.

In many cases, as soon as financing agreements were inked, those negotiated procurement plans had to substantially change. The most common reason for the need to revise those plans was related to:

  • lack of appropriate vision;
  • lack of appreciation of the risks;
  • lack of a market-based strategy that made them either too rigid or too idealistic to implement.

The (New) Procurement Framework  provides us with a strong instrument to counter this: the Project Procurement Strategy for Development (PPSD). The PPSD contains a set of tools and structure to develop a procurement strategy to achieve the Project Development Objectives (PDOs) using a robust analytical basis. As the new procurement framework just became effective a few months ago, one may question whether PPSD has been tested on the Bank's portfolio to see if it is really as helpful and efficient as envisaged.

An experience from Vietnam

Some answers can be found in Vietnam, where the Bank's portfolio ranks the third largest with US$8 billion lending and a long list of complex projects. In early 2015, the procurement team of the Governance Global Practice in Vietnam embraced the idea of PPSD and soon realized its potential. Although there was no detailed guidance at that time, the team was able to convince and help our Borrowers to prepare PPSDs for some complex projects. Some borrowers were initially reluctant and believed that this was just an additional requirement being imposed by the Bank. However, once the team demonstrated the use of some of the tools, they became excited about the potential benefits that a PPSD may bring.

For instance, under a large water and sanitation project in Ho Chi Minh City, a procurement strategy was developed for a several hundred million dollars waste water treatment plant (envisaged to be a single contract) which helped the Government decide on a bidding strategy by using open technology.

In the same city, the Government hired an international consultant expert to help prepare a PPSD for a challenging flood risk management project. This PPSD found that the local market for some types of works (such as tidal sluices) under the project were not adequate, and they should bid internationally for those contracts despite their values being relatively low. It also recommended that for canal improvement work which accounts for the largest portion of project investments, contracts should be divided according to the specific types of technical design to attract the broadest competition through international bidding.

Other examples include dam safety and climate resilience projects, whereby PPSDs helped Ministries of Agriculture and Natural Resources and Environment develop multiple detailed procurement plans for various subprojects in the country. These examples are of projects which use the Guidelines of the previous procurement policy.

For projects using the new procurement framework, such as land administration project (an Early Adopter of the new procurement framework), through an in-depth market analysis and robust PPSD, the Borrower (Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment) has successfully justified the participation of state-owned enterprises (SOEs) and public service units under this ministry for certain specialized technical services. The PPSD also showed the benefits of using a framework contracting rather than centralized procurement.

While the above PPSDs are just a few early examples, they have already proven to be an effective tool. PPSD helps borrowers look at both the challenges and opportunities, foresee risks and finally enable them to strategically design project procurement plans that best fit the project needs.

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Many Bank-financed projects, esp. ones w/ large and complex contracts face a high risk of delay - why? 


Elmas Arisoy

Regional Procurement Manager

Join the Conversation

Lindsey A Marchessault
November 29, 2016

Strategic objectives & iterative learning:
Thanks Elmas for the insightful post. I completely agree with your point that iterative learning and adaptation as things change can help ensure that procurement is successful and timely.
One practice that partners have found helpful to ensuring that procurement meets strategic needs is to publish draft specifications for public comment (so that stakeholders can give input and help to refine the specifications to better meet the vision before the procurement process officially begins).
At Open Contracting Partnership, we recommend partners to use the Open Contracting Data Standard, disclosure of open data, and engagement of stakeholders to use that data to achieve strategic objectives at each stage of the contracting process. If the strategy is not clear then monitoring, evaluation, and learning from practice is inhibited.

Subrata Lahiri
November 30, 2016

Government departments / institutions generally follow a hierarchical structure for according approval at various stages of the procurement process. There is little or no accountability of officials (especially at medium to senior levels) for non-timely disposal of files that are put up for their approval. This is one major reason why the procurement plans often go haywire in spite of the best efforts of the implementing officials (at the PMU level)to adhere to the laid down schedule. Such 'slackness' of officials even hurts the payment cycle thereby further vitiating the integrity of procurement. Therefore, unless there are tight institutional controls with fixed accountability AT ALL LEVELS within an organisation, PPSD may not yield the desired results notwithstanding its merits. The World Bank may take a close look at this 'problem', as unless this is addressed in right earnest, procurement plans would always stand the risk of uncertain deviations particularly in entities such as Government institutions, Public Sector organisations, etc. One way out of this could, perhaps, be to link disbursements to the Borrowers to their faithful adherence to the procurement plans, of course, with some leeway for delays that could be adequately justified. In my view this is a step that the Bank should look at seriously if the project objectives are to be met in letter and spirit.
The above are only my personal views