By Anyang’ Nyong’o
On Wednesday Prime Minister Raila Odinga, convened a meeting of senior Government officials, including ministers, to discuss the low capacity use of development funds. Quite often money voted for development, or obtained from development partners for the same purpose, is returned to the Treasury at the end of the financial year because it is not spent. The reason this happens varies.
But one thing is certain: As a Government we have been slow to adopt our procurement laws to facilitate efficient absorption of development funds and to respond creatively to sources of such funds that can complement Government treasury resources.
When under pressure to improve accountability and transparency in Government following the wanton outbreak of corruption, we responded quite appropriately by putting in place draconian procurement procedures that have now become an albatross around our neck.
Civil servants are afraid to take any major decisions on procurement issues else they run a foul of these complex procedures.
More than that; a culture of suspicion and backbiting has emerged in the corridors of Government that is eating up the avenues of efficiency like a terrible cancer. The surprising thing is that it exists even at the highest echelons of political power.
There is a general belief that every decision maker cannot put pen to paper until “there is something in it for him or her,” and others up the ladder must likewise “be taken care of.” In come those who compete for Government tenders; nobody loses a tender without “having been treated unfairly”.
The end result is perpetual litigation before the Procurement Oversight Authority windy investigations by the Kenya Anti-Corruption Authority questions by private notice in Parliament posed on behalf of the disgruntled losers. Am not saying in the least that corruption cases does not exist in Government; it does. But there are neater and more scientific ways of preventing and dealing with corruption.
First, let the rules of the game for procuring goods and services be well known and well laid out. Two, let those who are eminently qualified to run the show be allowed to do their work without let or hindrance. We have done this at the Kenya Medical Supplies Agency since 2008 and everything has been moving smoothly since. “We have been undertaking similar reforms to improve performance and productivity at the NHIF since 2008 with the support of development partners, and in particular the IFC. Hence subscribers more than quadrupled in four years.
Unnecessary and uninformed interference from without may easily undo our achievements under the guise of seeking to improve procurement procedures.”
Three, let responsibility for procuring be done by those legally and institutionally recognised for doing so; quite often it is the interfering with procurement processes “from above” that begins to mess up things and when problems arise, the “above people” are the first to cry foul and then begin playing the executioner’s role. And that is why some civil servants become shy about making major decisions. It is better to call a spade a spade and not a big spoon!
Four, let the private sector play by the rules and not try to exploit political connections so as to subvert procurement in their favour, especially when due process does not work in one’s favour. This does not mean we criminalise lobbying; but lobbying must be done within the bounds of law and not as a subversion of law.