THE major weakness in developing countries is the lack of procurement capacity.
Procurement, together with engineering, are the oldest professions dating back to the first century. Unlike engineering that has been professionalised, procurement has been left out remaining the dumping ground for failed professionals from other trades.
This has reduced the development of the procurement function at the expense of innovation and efficiency, especially in the public sector.
Capacity building is a critical component of any country procurement reform process and is one of the major activities of the public procurement office (PPO).
The failure of most PPOs was due to the non-availability of relevant skills.
The PPO will need the mandate to train on procurement. Lack of procurement skills has limited the training to unpacking the law rather than applying the law in the procurement process.
Other countries, on realising that the PPOs lacked procurement capacity, resorted to mandating the PPO with only the responsibility for the capacity building function and allowing them to outsource the actual training functions to specialists.
Due to the universal lack of procurement capacity, any procurement reform would need capacity building to benefit the PPOs themselves for them to effectively carry out their functions.
Donors have been instrumental in building procurement capacity of the PPOs. In addition to training unskilled PPO personnel, procurement specialists have been seconded by donors to harness the required level of expertise in that office.
The worst of the situations is to see unqualified PPO staff trying to train inexperienced procurement officers.
In this case, the rationale of outsourcing becomes very sensible and for this reason, it is necessary to emphasise that the role of a PPO is to be responsible for initiating and not necessarily conducting the actual training if expertise is limited.
This can be achieved by using qualified persons from procurement knowledge centres such as the Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply, national administrative colleges, universities and private sector procurement training organisations.
Capacity building goes further to the curriculum development. The role of curriculum development is only achievable internally if the PPO has the necessary skills to perform the function.
They could be involved in quality assurance, where they are involved in the selection and monitoring of training providers.
Procurement reforms need to mandate the PPO to have the role to play in the accreditation and liaison with education authorities for the development of national qualifications and with
civil service authorities in the development of a procurement profession or procurement cadre within the government ranks.
Economy and efficiency in public procurement is only achievable if the necessary capacity is developed and the law prescribes that a procurement qualified cadre should perform the procurement function together with the procurement structure within the organisational hierarchy.
l Nyasha Chizu is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply writing in his personal capacity. Feedback: firstname.lastname@example.org Skype: nyasha.chizu