Dr Pedro Telles of Swansea University has been conducting a series of interviews, the Public Procurement Podcasts (PPP), where he interviews leading academics, researchers and graduates who have an interesting viewpoint on aspects of public sector procurement. He recently spoke with S N Nyeck from Canterbury Christchurch University on public procurement governance in Africa.
She is generally interested in the political economy of development and the role that public procurement plays in transforming institutions and societies, and she has recently edited a book titled Public Procurement Reform and Governance in Africa. Telles is interested in why she chose to do this and with what motivation. It has come to her attention that when we talk about and look at public procurement reform, we focus rather heavily on the legal questions. But what most people are really interested in is how that actually happens in reality. One of the problems, she says, is “… not having the many fields that are interested in public procurement reform talking to each other. Legal scholars don’t necessarily engage with policy or political scientists, you have people in the business side not necessarily interacting with either legal scholars and/or political scientists.”
She is interested in developing the synergy that will allow practitioners and researchers to deal with the question of governance and public procurement in developing and middle-sized countries. In particular she raises concern over the limitation of a one-size-fits-all approach to reform and governance of public procurement in Africa, which she sees as primarily subjected to a “a top-down model facilitated by institutions such as the World Bank to some extent by some professional organisations.”
Her other concern is that the importance of pubic procurement in shaping societal development is not really understood, neither by African ‘scholars’ nor by civil society and institutions themselves. Understanding and involvement is lacking, “Nigeria” she says, is “in fact the only African country with legislation that provides for civil society and professional organisations to actually be part of public procurement processes …” But that doesn’t mean it works effectively! In most countries, she says, it is really striking that we still do not have civil society involved in this, and so the question is — who is?
She mentions a quote from a former World Bank director responsible for operations in Africa, that public procurement officers are not involved or even considered as a major contributor in designing public procurement reform. So what you would think would be a priority, when amending laws, is given no thought in terms of capability. By that she means, how do we actually implement and engage? How do we train? How do we put resources in place to develop the public sector? We are training more people, and we’re encouraging civil society to be part of this, but are we monitoring what is happening?
The conversation goes much deeper, and continues on the theme of public procurement lending too much emphasis on the legal aspect and not the practicalities. And Telles reminds us of a previous interview looking at a similar theme in South America and the Carribean, where it wasn’t actually the changes in the law that led to improvement in public procurement practice, for example in reducing corruption, but the further reforms that were done afterwards. While she does see that some models can be replicated in Africa, Africa itself has contributed a lot to the debate and can contribute to this debate on its own terms.
They go on to have a good, in-depth discussion about what does and does not work in public procurement practices, and how the impetus to reform public procurement is a global one. “A lot of what is happening is really happening at the global level and then influencing the ways in which different countries choose to be part of the conversation or not,” she says.
The whole discussion is available to read or listen to on the Public Procurement Podcast website.