Taxpayers to bleed E2.4m for strengthening public procurement

By Phephile Motau

With the government spending billions of Emalangeni each year on public procurement, its systems remain inefficient. To fix this, the government has approached the African Development Bank (AfDB), seeking technical assistance for conducting a comprehensive assessment of the national procurement system which shall identify the strengths and weaknesses of the public procurement system and provide recommendations that may form the basis of procurement reforms in the country.

The assignment is scheduled to commence in September 2022, and there will be three missions to the country that would be undertaken by the lead consultant. According to the AfDB, the assignment will be completed after the submission of the final assessment report not later than August 2024. The estimated total project cost is about E2.47 million and the Bank will provide E2.32 million that will be funded under the Middle-Income Country Technical Assistance Fund. The public procurement authority Eswatini Public Procurement Regulatory Authority (ESPPRA) will contribute about E422 000 to finance expenses related to the staffing, workshops, and training activities.

The country’s public procurement regulatory institutions, the ESPPRA and the Government Tender Board lack sufficient staff and do not have adequate information technology tools to facilitate their operations.

It is stated in the appraisal that compliance with procurement reporting formats by procuring entities, as well as the accuracy of the information, is questionable. 

According to the Ministry of Finance Expenditure Estimates, Eswatini spent E20 billion in 2018/19 which was 32 per cent of GDP, E21.7 billion in 2019/20 which was 33.5 per cent of GDP and E22.6 billion in 2020/21 which was 34 per cent of GDP

“The government spends a significant amount of public funds on public procurement, therefore there should be an efficient public procurement system that will ensure that public money is well spent,” the appraisal states.

The objective of the project is the assessment of the Public Procurement System of Eswatini based on the Methodology for Assessing Procurement Systems (MAPS)Version of September 2018. This is aimed at identifying the strengths and weaknesses of the existing public procurement systems, inform the strategic planning process for future reform and system development; establish a baseline for monitoring progress; and ensure the objectivity, credibility, and quality of the assessment process and the assessment report.

The overarching development objective of the project is to support the development of a transparent, effective, and accountable public procurement system by strengthening the capacity of the institution in charge of public procurement – the ESPPRA. 

The appraisal report shows that the project will provide targeted technical assistance and knowledge management support to the ESPPRA to deliver its mandate of ensuring efficient, effective, transparent, and accountable public procurement systems and practices at all levels and undertake selected analytical work to inform legal and institutional reforms and capacity building of procurement professionals. 

“The purpose is to assess the institutional, organizational, and human resources capacity in public procurement and inform future reforms and capacity building interventions. The provision of technical assistance and advisory services will contribute to addressing some of the weaknesses identified in the Country Fiduciary Risk,” the report states.

It was revealed that the assessment would be done using the OECD Methodology for the assessment of procurement systems and provides the basis for dialogue and continuation of the ongoing procurement reforms in the country.

The MAPS assessment would identify the gaps in the existing country’s procurement system by applying assessment criteria expressed in qualitative and quantitative terms. The assessment will lay the foundation for strengthening the public procurement system in Eswatini.

The report states that public procurement in Eswatini poses a significant risk of failure to achieve value for money and efficiency due to a lack of full compliance with the procurement law and the use of incomplete bidding documents. 

The technical assistance strives to address these and other risks. It was stated that the 2020 e-Government Procurement (e-GP) Strategy highlighted weaknesses in public procurement in the country including unethical market prices; weak internal controls and fraud and corruption. 

“Further challenges faced in public procurement include lack of professionalization. Procurement is not presently seen as a professional function in Eswatini. There are no job descriptions related to procurement roles and responsibilities and no requirements that those working in procurement should have in terms of procurement education or training,” the report states.

It was further revealed that procurement data was not readily available at the Government Tender Board, Ministry of Finance , or ESPPRA, thus making monitoring and regulation problematic. 

The appraisal further argues that the private sector had low confidence in the transparency and integrity of the current public procurement system. Staff capacity, procurement planning, and contract management remain weak and unrelated to sector strategic plans, annual work plans, and budgets.

Main constraints of Eswatini’s Public Procurement System

• Gaps in the Public Procurement Act of 2011 and loopholes in the Public Procurement Regulations

• Current unavailability of SBDs delays procurement proceedings

• Lack of financial resources and inadequate staffing within the ESPPRA

• Limited internal control within the procuring entities

• Weaknesses in procurement operations and market practices

• Lack of a procurement manual to be used by procuring entities and other stakeholders

• Lack of adoption of the e-GP System

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