The move by President Uhuru Kenyatta to demand that 30 per cent of all State tenders be given out to youth, women and people with disabilities (PWDs), seems to have become an avenue for a few to make a kill out of offers meant for the vulnerable.
In 2015, even after Senator Johnson Sakaja came up with a Bill that amended the Public Procurement and Asset Disposal Act to create the Access to Government Procurement Opportunities (AGPO), more needs to be done.
This was a vehicle to assist women, youth and disabled persons to legally lay claim to the 30 per cent tenders in government ministries.
The youth, women and PWDs were required to register companies, then visit any Huduma Centre where they would be issued with an AGPO certificate. The certificate would ensure they qualify for State tenders under the 30 per cent marginalised rule.
An AGPO-listed company would be given incentives - from normal rigorous tender bidding processes in the general categories such as the standard requirement to have three years audited accounts. Or having the experience and personnel needed to run a registered company among others.
However, what was supposed to be a noble initiative to help the vulnerable has become a means for the wealthy to easily obtain government tenders without breaking a sweat.
According to Sakaja, AGPO was meant to empower the poor, not rich people with the means yet claiming to be ‘vulnerable’.
“It is true that you can be a woman, a youth or a disabled person with good means to bid for a government tender in the general categories and win. For this reason, you shouldn’t apply for AGPO and take up tenders meant for the poor and marginalised,” Sakaja told Financial Standard.
“I am a youth and legally I can qualify for AGPO. But given my status as a lawmaker and my financial position, surely I shouldn’t apply for AGPO. It would be unfair for those who really need it.”
In 2016, a Sh5.2 billion scandal was exposed in the Ministry of Health where an audit report exposed illegal transactions and tendering processes.
At the centre of the controversy was a company called Sundales International Ltd whose directors included President Uhuru Kenyatta’s sister Nyokabi Kenyatta and cousin Kathleen Kihanya.
The company was named at number 1,790 on the Public Procurement Oversight Authority’s 2014 roll of disadvantaged groups that should receive preferential treatment when they bid for tenders, having qualified for AGPO since the directors were women.
When questioned about appearing among the disadvantaged, Ms Kihanya was quoted as saying: “Are you serious you are asking me about that? Are you aware of AGPO for women, youth and other disadvantaged groups like the disabled? We fit in that category.”
Apart from the Sundales case, the AGPO Secretariat at the Treasury is full of other cases where the wealthy team up to form a company which they use to take up tenders meant for youths or women in slums.
Institute of Economic Affairs CEO Kwame Owino says AGPO’s formulation in law offers no mechanism to ensure the poor benefit from tenders.
“Anybody as long as they are women, youth or physically challenged can take advantage of AGPO and reap from a government tender. Rich people are benefiting from it which is wrong. The poor in society should be the actual beneficiaries,” Owino said.
Sakaja, the very brains behind AGPO observes: “For me, I think the question of someone taking up AGPO while their social standing is privileged enough not take a tender opportunity meant for the poor is more a moral one than a legal issue,” he said.
“Someone should appeal to their conscious and ask themselves: is it really right for me to take something that I am privileged enough to do without?” He observed: “The AGPO law has no provision locking out privileged women or youths from accessing the 30 per cent state tenders.”
Regional Director for Hivos People Unlimited Mendi Njonjo, an organisation concerned with evaluating good governance practices in the region concurs that privileged people should keep away from AGPO tenders.
“It’s a no-no. These tenders are meant for youth, disabled people or women who are poor and cannot compete fairly for tenders in the general category. Wealthy people whether women, youth or disabled should keep away from them,” Ms Njonjo said.
Hivos recently released a survey pointing out that youth, women and disabled persons who should get preferential treatment when it comes to awarding State tenders, have only received 7.7 per cent of these tenders.
Which is a far cry from the 30 per cent the AGPO law says they should get. Out of the 2,232 tenders the State has floated in the last four years, only 172 were awarded to AGPO registered firms. This means the initiative has been largely unhelpful to these vulnerable groups.
According to the report, 56 per cent of poor vulnerable groups who applied for the tenders neither got them nor received a reply from the AGPO Secretariat at the Treasury stating why they did not qualify.
In discussions retrieved from the AGPO website and other documents, the frustration from the vulnerable on how it is difficult to obtain the tenders meant for them is glaring.
One of those seeking tenders, Carl Brockten Chumba wrote: “The bottom line is that we don’t get our fair share.
These opportunities are a preserve for the well-connected sons and daughters of the procurement and management bosses in various agencies. All you’re doing is a mere Public Relations! No value.” Another tender seeker Festus Kinoti observes: “I have fulfilled all requirements but for the last two years I have not secured any opportunity. This works only for those with connections with procurement officers…,”
Aaron Karuga who has also been seeking for opportunities in the programme writes: “Unfortunately insider-trading is high... the price threshold is revealed to some people... this makes one’s efforts a waste of time and finances. Something must be done to recover the lost confidence with AGPO.”
AGPO does not reply to any of the allegations. It remains to be seen whether the poor will get their rightful share of State tenders or whether the well-meant AGPO initiative is another vehicle that has been hijacked by wealthy tenderpreneurs fanning the flames of inequality in Kenya.