Reforming Zimbabwe’s public procurement laws

Reforming procurement cannot be ignored because of the development within the region.

Zimbabwe is a member of Common Market for East and Southern (Comesa) Africa and the regional trading group is in the process of harmonising public procurement rules and regulations.

Across the region, it is estimated that public procurement accounts for approximately 60% of government expenditure.

Due to the importance of this sector, Comesa, with the support of African Development Bank proceeded to launch in 2002 the Comesa Public Procurement Reform Project which aimed at harmonising public procurement rules and regulations, as well as to build capacity of national procurement systems in the region.

The project closed in December 2004 and a new project was launched as a successor of that project, the Enhancing Procurement Reforms and Capacity Project, which is expected to run until December 2011.

The project aims at modernising and harmonising the laws, regulations and procedures and by strengthening the countries’ capacities to manage modern procurement systems.

The harmonisation or standardisation will allow users of the system, the buying and selling organisations, to predict tender-bidding processes, selection and adjudication methods and the manner in which tenders are awarded.

This will also mean similar interpretation of important principles such as competition, fairness, transparency, non-discrimination, accountability, professionalism, appeal rights, economy and efficiency.

Research conducted by Wayne Wittig, the senior advisor, public sector procurement UNCTAD/WTO (ITC) revealed that:

In most cases in African countries, the legal framework is unclear and may not be comprehensive enough for effective management of systems.

Most procurement systems were not transparent and could not be predicted. Some provided for imposition of discretions by concerned ministers. The rules were not religiously followed in some cases.

In some states, the rules are there but the implementation is selective. Some states do not recognise conflict of interest in procurement.

Some states reported applying preferential treatment to local companies.

In most cases reported, the central procurement authority is involved operationally in the conduct of procurement proceedings at the detriment of regulatory function.

Very few states had set professional requirements for people manning procurement offices. In addition to regional grouping pressure to reform procurement and recognise it as a profession, the United Nations Global Compact relates to the need to transform this function.

The principles under environment and anti-corruption subheadings place some obligation on the process of sourcing.

Environment

Principle 7: Business should support a precautionary approach to environmental challenges.

Principle 8: Undertake initiatives to promote greater environmental responsibility.

Principle 9: Encourage the development and diffusion of environmentally friendly technologies.

Anti – Corruption

Principle 10: Business should work on all forms of corruption, including extortion and bribery.
Sourcing techniques can play a significant role in ensuring that environmental concerns under principles 7-9 are enhanced in business transactions.

Professionalisation of procurement, reforming procurement laws can enhance Principle 10 since most forms of corruption, extortion and bribery are committed in the procurement activities of business.

Given the finding above, there is need to update the public procurement framework for Zimbabwe in order to take into account modern procurement practices and innovative techniques that are environmentally cautious, increase service delivery whilst providing relief to working capital to the benefit of investors and citizens at large.

The indigenisation policy and the “Buy Zimbabwe Campaign” can also be implemented easily if the laws are drafted to accommodate local participation while simultaneously maintaining the required level of quality standards in business using procurement laws.

This will also provide an opportunity to upgrade the human resources responsible for procurement while the same time building capacity in public procurement.

Nyasha Chizu is CIPS Zimbabwe branch chairman. He writes in his personal capacity.

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