Dr Pedro Telles of Swansea University has been conducting a series of interviews, the Public Procurement Podcasts (PPP), supported by the British Academy Rising Star Engagement Awards, where he interviews leading academics, researchers and graduates who have an interesting viewpoint on aspects of public sector procurement. He has now begun the second phase of his series, so we are delighted to say the PPPs are back, and on June 17, he spoke to Petra Ferk, Assistant Professor for public administration at Graduate School of Government and European Studies.
Petra is also a researcher at the Institute for Public-Private Partnership Slovenia, and is the co-author of legal monographs, several articles and national reports dealing with public procurement, services of general (economic) interest (SGEI), public-private partnerships, state aid, energy and environment. Today, Telles talks to her about electronic procurement, in Directive 2014/24/EU.
She begins by clarifying that in fact, eProcurement was not new to the 2014 procurement directive. The 2004 procurement directive made some provisions for it, but they were voluntary for contracting authorities, provided they complied with the rules drawn up under the directive and principles of equal treatment, non-discrimination and transparency. So the major step forward was the mandatory nature of the 2014 directive.
What she believes is particularly important, is Article 22 and Article 90, which define the transposition deadline. She notes that approximately a quarter of the directive deals with electronic procurement issues.
The first paragraph of Article 22 is the most important, stating that “… all communication and information exchanged under this directive, in particular electronic submission are performed using electronic means of communication in accordance with requirements of this article ...” Now, she says, this goes on for two pages, but while that clearly identifies the importance of the mandate, it does not make clear what it is actually that has become mandatory. You have to search through the Commission’s documents to ascertain this: and she found that the following are mandatory: e-notification, electronic access to procurement documents and electronic submission. She says: “since electronic notification and electronic access to procurement documents were in one or another way already used prior to the 2014 directive, the really new part is just electronic submission …”
What she finds telling, for all the good meaning and willingness to adopt, was the lengthy transposition deadlines, which kept changing. “The general transposition deadline, as we know, for procurement directives was 18th April this year, 2016 and then for electronic procurement longer transposition deadline was foreseen and this is October 18th, 2018, except for those instruments where use of electronic means is mandatory and this is for dynamic purchasing system, electronic auctions, electronic catalogues, for central purchasing bodies and then electronic availability of procurement documents and publication of notices. Although, notwithstanding these provisions, the Member States may also postpone the application of Article 22 for central purchasing bodies till April 2017. When the directive was adopted it was expected that these are long enough transposition deadlines that Member States will be able to transpose this provision in time; now we can see that quite a few Member States did not transpose the directives yet and that those who did transpose the directives didn’t make clear major steps towards introducing also electronic procurement. So in practice we can see the provisions are very…unclear, and ambitious.”
Telles remarks that the private sector has made it possible for us to buy and sell online for almost 20 years, “so it’s very interesting, that when it comes down to public procurement, the current directive, although it makes the use of electronic means to deal with the, especially the submissions, which is the most important bit, mandatory, it only does so from 2018 onwards, so effectively it’s almost like public procurement is lagging the private sector for 15 or 20 years in terms of adopting a technology, adopting almost a business strategy in a sense which has been very, very common in the private sector.”
Petra believes this may have been because the platforms required might be too expensive to implement, or that there may have been fears of ‘open’ procurement allowing the sharing of data, or that it might even cause a barrier to foreign suppliers who have not implemented the tools. And one of the biggest barriers is the different translations needed in the preparation of tender documents.
“I think that the other reason why we in the public sector are really behind the private one, is maybe also lack of expertise with procurement officials, even to prepare specifications for procuring the company who would develop the platform …” She concludes that more training is needed for public procurement officials.
They go on to discuss market/supplier readiness and look at some of the positives in general, then move on to what the situation is in Slovenia in particular, and the importance of making the platforms user-friendly. This is a taste of the discussion — the whole transcript can be found on the PPP website here.