During fiscal deficits and recessions, when the pressure on the economy is profound, governments face budget shortfalls. The negative impact of a recession can also be amplified when a country, like Zimbabwe, faces overvalued exchange rates that mask the extent of underlying price pressures. Furthermore, a recently elected government has created substantial public expectations of change, and demand for greater transparency and accountability.
A healthy mix of innovation, continuous engagement, and effective implementation can bring about sustained transformation in public procurement. A more effective and transparent procurement system frees up public money for achieving more and better development outcomes and improving the delivery of public services.
Without effective public scrutiny, the risk of money being lost to corruption and misappropriation is vast. Citizens, rightly so, are demanding more transparency around the process for awarding government contracts. And, at the end of the day, corruption hurts the poor the most by reducing access to essential services such as health and education.
India - which spends an estimated 20% of GDP on public procurement - has been struggling with the challenges of decentralized procurement of commonly used items for quite a long time.
Why digitize public procurement?
Many countries have an opportunity to digitally transform public procurement systems to achieve enhanced efficiency, accountability, transparency, and participation of small and medium enterprises (SMEs). Digitally transforming public procurement would also accelerate national development objectives, such as enhancing public service delivery, developing human capital and the private sector, and gender empowerment.
The challenge with procuring a high volume of low-value goods is keeping the transaction costs down while still delivering the value-for-money trifecta: low cost, at the required quality, and on time. Alibaba, Amazon, eBay and many other online platforms do this for sellers by setting up a “honey pot” market place that attracts buyers and then largely automates the rest of the procurement, delivery and feedback processes. An e-marketplace can help make the agricultural sector more efficient in Pakistan.
As I have blogged earlier, the World Bank is supporting Procurement Observatories in India. Procurement Observatories are civil society organizations, whose goal is to collect, analyze and present public procurement policies and data to the public in a more understandable way. These initiatives, inspired by similar approaches in Nigeria, allow for greater transparency of procurement practices.
While the aim of these observatories is to become self-sustaining and independent from World Bank support, recent progress from three such observatories in India show that .
India is the fastest-growing major economy in the world with significant Government investments in infrastructure. According to estimates by WTO and OECD, as quoted in a report from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, India: Probity in Public Procurement, the estimated public procurement in India is between 20 and 30 percent of GDP.
This translates to Indian government agencies issuing contracts worth an estimated US$ 419 billion to US$ 628 billion each year for various aspects of infrastructure projects. Ideally, in contractual agreements no disputes would arise and both sides would benefit from the outcome. However, unexpected events occur and many contracts end in dispute. Contractual legal disputes devoid project benefits to the public as time and resources are spent in expensive arbitration and litigation. As a result, India’s development goals are impacted.
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.
Students in public schools without textbooks at the start of the year. Health centers in villages without even the most basic medications. Oftentimes procurement is to blame.
An efficient procurement system isn't just a good idea, it's a necessary tool for all governments (local and national) to function properly and deliver public services.
Keeping pace with global trends, on July 1 the World Bank will roll out the new Procurement Framework for countries that procure goods and services under Bank-finance projects. The new framework will be implemented for all investment projects with a Project Concept Note on or after July 1, 2016. Led by the Global Governance Practice (GGP) with support from Operations Policy and Country Services (OPCS), the framework is designed to increase flexibility, efficiency, and transparency of procurement process, to better meet the needs of client countries.