Effective Public Procurment System As Panacea To Sustainable Devt In Edo State

January 7, 2015
by Innocent Edemhanria

The need to develop effective and efficient tools to hold government accountable to the people on issues of transparency and accountability in resource management has become increasingly important especially as we hit 2015, being the target set by United Nations to achieve millennium development goals (MDGs).
Before now, in Edo State, the regulation of procurement processes was not been guided by any law but an administrative document which could be amended by Ministry of Finance or Edo State Government without regard to fundamental rights of the suppliers/ contractors. This means that the rights of the supplier/contractors with regards to protective measures as it relate to procurement processes were only protected by the good will of the government in power.
Just to mention that the bulk of corrupt practices in Nigeria today are linked to public procurement, which accounts for more of government’s daily activities. To put it differently, most of government activities centres on procurement of goods, services and works, hence the need to develop proper guidelines backed by law to regulate the process. The continuous low rating of Nigeria by Transparency International (TI) and other international anti-corruption organisations, among the most corrupt nations of the world are also located within the ambit of weak governance embedded in a weak public procurement system that has blighted the development of Nigeria and many parts of Africa till date.
The Africa Network for Environment and Economic Justice (ANEEJ), as an organisation while implementing the “Strengthening Oil Revenue Management in Niger Delta Project Phase 2” with support from the Royal Norwegian Embassy and Bread for the World Protestant Development Service opted to play a key role in the process leading to the enactment of Public Procurement Law among other laws in Edo State and other Niger Delta States. ANEEJ has consistently maintained that it is important to institutionalize good governance best practice in the region by enacting laws to ensure fiscal discipline and also guide procurement processes in the States in line with international best practice.
ANEEJ and the Nigerian Labour Congress, Edo State Chapter were part of the 13 member State Steering Committee on Public Expenditure Management and Financial Accountability Review (PEMFAR). The committee was inaugurated by Edo State Governor on March 10, 2010 and the assessment was undertaken by the World Bank. The Committee working with the World Bank Consultant came up with detailed Public Finance Management Reform Action Plan for Edo State (2010 – 2020). One key outcome of that process was the recommendation for the passage of the Procurement and Fiscal Responsibility bill into laws by 2012.
Interestingly, Edo State government in October, 2011, sent a draft Public Procurement Bill to the State House of Assembly for consideration and eventual passage into law. Accordingly, ANEEJ on Saturday 22nd October, 2011 in Benin City, convened a roundtable on the bill tagged “Promoting Public Participation in Legislative Process and Governance in Edo State”, for civil society organisations to review and make input into the draft bill. The then Edo State Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Dr. Osgie Obayuwana formally presented a copy of the draft bill to civil society groups at the event which was chaired by Rt. Hon Uyi Igbe, Speaker, Edo State House of Assembly. The speaker at the event promised to incorporate the inputs from civil society into the bill before its final passage.
Earlier, ANEEJ had entered into an MoU with Office of the Special Adviser to the President on Relations with Civil Society to among other things, help sensitize relevant agencies of government on the need for a transparent Public Procurement system; lead advocacy for the enactment of public procurement law, and also lead effort for the involvement of civil society Organisations in observing and monitoring public procurement processes at Ministries, Departments and Agencies. This was in pursuance of World Bank Assisted Programme on Improving Civil Society Involvement in the Economic Reform and Governance Project. The project took ANEEJ and other civil society groups, the then Special Adviser to the President on Relations with Civil Society and his team, to meet with Edo State Government including the House of Assembly to advocate for the enactment of Public Procurement Law in the State.
ANEEJ actions are predicated on the believe that if the public procurement bill is eventually passed by Edo State House of Assembly (EDHA) and signed into law by the Governor, it will promote transparency and accountability in the procurement of goods, services and works in the state which has been a key advocacy issue of ANEEJ in the past four years.
Good enough, Edo State Governor, on Wednesday February 29, 2012 signed the Edo State Public Procurement Agency Bill into law. Among other things, the Law provides for the establishment of a Public Procurement Agency. The powers of the agency are clearly articulated in the new law to include inspecting and reviewing any procurement transaction and ensuring compliance with the provisions of this law. Clearly, the journey for transparent and accountable governance begins with putting the right legislations in place which is what the Government of Edo State has done. Edo State Government has, by this development demonstrated the political will to give a new face to governance in the state which will help to address the challenges of poor procurement practices.
In a related development, precisely, on July 2011, the Cross River State Governor, Senator, Liyel Imoke equally sent four bills including public procurement bill to the Cross River State House of Assembly for consideration in response to persistent agitation and sustained advocacy for the enactment of such laws. ANEEJ in collaboration with Green Concern for Development (GREENCODE) Calabar, moved swiftly to convene a high level stakeholders’ forum to consider, review and make input into the bills. The event took place at Green Valley Hotel, Calabar from 23rd to 24th August, 2011. The stakeholders’ forum was attended by over 34 participants drawn from various civil society groups in Cross River State; Dept of International Donor Support, Governor’s Office Calabar; Budget Office; Accountant General’s Office; Community Based Organization; Nongovernmental and Faith Base Organisations; academia as well as the Clerk Elder (Barr) Bassey Ekpenyong and seven members of Cross River State House of Assembly led by the Deputy Speaker, Rt. Hon. Itaya A. Nyong.
Civil Society groups mobilized to fine-tune the outcome of the stakeholders’ forum and made presentation during the public hearing organized by the Cross River State House of Assembly. The bills have since been signed into law by the governor and implementation has commenced.
However, ANEEJ engagement with stakeholders across the region has shown a trend where enforcement of such laws has been problematic. For instance the required Council on Public Procurement in case of Bayelsa and Delta States are yet to be constituted years after the laws in both States were enacted, a situation that has hindered smooth implementation of the law. The situation is the same at the federal level as stakeholders have continued to mount pressure on the presidency even as the Senate and Federal House of Representatives have called on President Jonathan to immediately inaugurate the desired National Council on Public Procurement.
Interestingly, the situation is different in Edo State as the governor has shown some level of determination to implement the law as there are visible signs that the public procurement agency may soon be fully constituted. Some of the board members have been nominated and screened by Edo State House of Assembly and a modern office has been opened for the agency. This step has put Edo State above others in the region who are still foot dragging to constitute the State Council on Public Procurement as provided for by their respective procurement laws.
Civil society groups should take advantage of the procurement law to ensure that they observe procurement processes in the State, a role that has been secured by legislation. However, CSOs need to prepare and equip themselves with knowledge and skills to function in its assigned role as procurement lies at the heart of public expenditure management, good governance, sustainable development and democratic development. If we get it right in procurement functions towards achieving value for money and accountability in public expenditure, just as Edo State government has moved towards effecting implementation of the law, then the delivery of services will become more evident and the security as well as welfare of the people would be amply manifested which is in the first instance – the primary purpose of government as enshrined in the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended.
Innocent Edemhanria is Policy/Programme Officer of the Africa Network for Environment and Economic Justice (ANEEJ).
Email: innocent@aneej.org