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Procurement decision: Who is accountable?


In day-to-day management, work is accomplished through systematic delegation. In the private sector, the CEOs delegate to specialists who assist them carry out technical tasks such as IT, finance, engineering and procurement.

In the public sector, the State Procurement Board (SPB) is responsible for all public procurement. Consequently, who then is responsible and accountable for mis-procurement in these two sectors?

To answer this question, we would like to explore some elements that build up this case.
We need to understand the meaning and implications of delegation. Delegation is the giving of some power, responsibility, or work to somebody else.

It is assignment of authority and responsibility to another person in a manager subordinate relationship to carry out specific activities.
However, the person who delegates the work remains accountable for the outcome of delegated work.

Delegation shifts decision-making authority from one organisational level to another empowering the subordinate to make decisions.

In private sector, procurement is delegated mainly to the finance and administration function with a few exceptions that empower autonomous procurement units. SPB delegates procurement under $50 000 to accounting officers and is responsible for all other public sector procurement.
Given the above discussion, further exploring accountability and responsibility in the context of delegation is necessary. The words have often been used synonymously and are related to ethics and governance. They mean answerability or liability.

At law, one is said to be legally liable when one is financially and legally responsible for something.

What is important to note is you can share responsibility, but cannot share accountability. This calls for a review of the procurement decision-making process.

Does having in public sector, the accounting officers and SPB, and in private sector, a buying unit under finance and administration, share responsibility of procurement decision-making achieve the desired results? This is significant particularly to the fact that only the delegator is accountable for outcomes.

In order to have ethical and responsible procurement, authority must be shifted to the experts, the procurement unit. The power they receive from their superior is on the basis of academic knowledge of procurement.

Unfortunately, procurement in Zimbabwe is micromanaged.

Micromanagement is attempting to control with excessive attention to micro details which regrettably, is difficult in procurement because the work is highly technical and is equally sophisticated to the extent that simple accounting audit cannot unravel mis-procurement.

Offenders are hiding behind their fingers with accounting officers and buyers taking advantage of micromanagement by SPB in public sector. Buyers hide behind the figure of the finance and administration divisions in the private sector.

In light of the fact that accountability cannot be shared whilst responsibilities are shared, I do not advocate for abdication in procurement decision-making process.

I therefore envisage the need for organisational development of purchasing and supply.
Organisational development is the theory and practice of planned systematic change in the attitude, beliefs and values of the employees in the purchasing and supply through creation and reinforcement of long-term training programmes.

Organisational development is action-oriented. It starts with a careful organisational-wide analysis of the current situation and of the future requirements, and employs techniques of behavioural sciences such as behaviour modelling, sensitivity training and transactional analysis.

Its objective is to enable organisations adapt better to the fast-changing external environment of new markets, regulations and technologies. This will enhance the development of a culture of responsibility and accountability in purchasing and supply.

About the Author
Nyasha Chizu is a Fellow of CIPS and the chairman of CIPS Zimbabwe branch and writes in his personal capacity. Email: chizunyasha@yahoo.com

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