Guest column: NAZANEEN ISMAIL ALI
During fiscal deficits and recessions, when the pressure on the economy is profound, governments face budget shortfalls.
The negative impact of a recession can also be amplified when a country, like Zimbabwe, faces overvalued exchange rates that mask the extent of underlying price pressures.
Furthermore, a recently elected government has created substantial public expectations of change, and demand for greater transparency and accountability.
It is in this context that the government of Zimbabwe has taken important steps to reform its public procurement system through a comprehensive and multi-faceted reform programme that should ultimately catalyse further development.
The public procurement reform programme, supported by a $2 million grant from the World Bank’s Zimbabwe Reconstruction Fund, has made significant progress in advancing reforms through a variety of actions: the enactment of a new Public Procurement Act as the anchor instrument of the legal framework; the development of practical tools for implementing the law, including standard bidding and contract documents; and the development of an electronic government procurement strategy, also known as e-GP.
The old legal and institutional arrangements for Zimbabwe’s public procurement had a very high risk of encountering corruption in Zimbabwe’s public procurement sector.
For example, irregular payments and governance issues in connection with the awarding of public contracts, as well as favouritism in the decisions of government officials are common, and public funds are often diverted for other purposes.
The good news, however, is that procurement reforms in Zimbabwe are making transformational changes by replacing the country’s old public procurement framework with a modern system that is more efficient, accountable, and transparent.
To date, specific accomplishments in modernising the public procurement system in Zimbabwe include the following:
λAdoption of modern public procurement regulations that define the legal, institutional, and procedural framework. The Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets Act came into force on January 2018.
λEstablishment of the Procurement Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (PRAZ) and Board appointed in January 2018.
λDevelopment and promulgation of procurement regulations, standard bidding documents (SBDs) and guidelines.
λDevelopment of training of trainers course materials. Roll out of this training programme is underway while a professionalisation and certification module is being developed.
λDevelopment of e-GP strategy, e-GP Guidelines and Business Process Re-Engineering Report.
To ensure the proper implementation of the new public procurement system, the World Bank supported the establishment of PRAZ, including a plan for developing quick wins during the first 100 days and a five-year strategic plan (2019-2023) that identifies five objectives:
λImproving public procurement effectiveness through targeted capacity building of market players
λIncreasing competition of private sector in public markets
λIncreasing value for money
λIncreasing transparency and accountability in the public procurement processes
λGuaranteeing an efficient regulatory function which promotes regulatory compliance
It is significant how Zimbabwe is succeeding in reforming its public procurement system while simultaneously facing multi-faceted challenges marked by a series of political, economic, and financial shocks.
The adoption of the new procurement legal framework and the establishment of PRAZ with a board of directors representing all regions in the country, as well as from the public and private sectors, with a majority of women representation, clearly demonstrate the cultural changes in institutional arrangements in Zimbabwe’s public sector.
These reforms are trendsetters for broader governance reforms in Zimbabwe but can also be a model to follow by other countries in the region, or the world.