11 October 2012 | Rebecca Ellinor
The procurement profession is less than 10 years old in Uganda, where the PPDA regulates its activity. Rebecca Ellinor asks executive director, Cornelia Sabiiti, to explain its achievements and challenges.
What is the Public Procurement & Disposal of Public Assets Authority (PPDA)?
PPDA is an independent regulatory authority set up by a Uganda Act of Parliament. It sets standards, advises government, monitors compliance and regulates public procurement and disposal of public assets in the country.
It was set up in 2003, after the Ugandan government began reforms of public procurement and disposal in 1997. Prior to this, public procurement was governed under the Central Tender Board.
The authority’s objectives are to ensure fair, competitive, transparent, non-discriminatory and value-for-money public procurement and disposal standards and practices; harmonise the procurement and disposal policies, systems and practices of the central government, local governments and statutory bodies; set standards for the public procurement and disposal systems; monitor compliance of procuring and disposing of entities; and build procurement and disposal capacity in Uganda.
PPDA regulates public procurement in all government departments, statutory and local government bodies. It currently has a 72-strong staff in five major departments: legal and advisory services; procurement, audit and investigations; training and capacity building; finance and administration; and corporate affairs.
What have been its notable achievements?
Uganda has been a leader in Africa in the implementation of procurement reforms. The biggest achievement was the establishment of a legal and institutional framework to regulate public procurement both at central and local government.
PPDA has also issued standard guidelines, regulations and documents. It has trained more than 1,200 procurement professionals in less than 10 years. It decentralised the procurement and disposing process, removing delays and inefficiencies that characterised the old centralised system.
It also created a tenders portal where all public entities are supposed to post a copy of their procurement and disposal notices and set up the register of providers, which allows private individuals and companies to register to do business with government.
What challenges has it had?
Some challenges have been in efficiency at the entities’ procurement and disposing departments. There are delays caused by late commencement of procurements; capacity gaps, for example failure to consolidate submissions for approval; prolonged evaluation processes; complaints by bidders; unethical conduct; and unpredictable cash releases. Amendments to the PPDA Act have recently been made, which allow for shortening time frames. We’re also continuously providing on-site training to public procurement professionals.
How does PPDA help direct major departments on good procurement?
It created regulations and guidelines that are used by all major and minor government departments for use in public procurement and disposal. It provides continuous training and capacity building for them. Some of the training is done on site so the people involved can learn using real situations.
Contractors who have failed in their obligations are blacklisted, ensuring that government departments don’t use the same firms or people. This would not be possible if the lists were not public.
Regular procurement audits help departments iron out issues before they get out of hand. PPDA also provides a regularly updated common user items list that has helped departments look out for fair market prices instead of only going with the bidder’s price.
How does it help reduce corruption?
The legal framework, regulations and guidelines make it harder for entities or individuals to claim they did something without knowing the implications. The framework holds public and private officials accountable for their actions. And the administrative review process allows bidders and or the public to question the action of an entity’s procurement or disposal processes. The Public Procurement Symposium PPDA held last month also reviewed the procurement reforms, looking at the achievements, challenges and the way forward.
How long has the blacklist been operational and what difference has it made?
The blacklist of suspended providers has been in place since the passing of the PPDA Act in 2003. The Act empowers the authority to suspend providers who do not comply with its regulations and guidelines, or for breaching the code of ethics.
A recommendation to suspend a provider is submitted to the authority in writing by the contracts committee of a procuring and disposing entity. During the period of suspension, the provider is prohibited from engaging in any public procurement or disposal process nationwide. The suspension is not limited to the firm alone, but also includes its directors and any successor.
The amended Act now gives us powers to suspend a provider without waiting for a government department to make a complaint. As of 1 September, there were 37 providers on the suspension list, which is available on the PPDA website.
How is the department helping to improve training of procurement professionals?
The capacity-building functions of PPDA include setting up training standards, competence levels, certification systems, development of a capacity building operational plan and collaboration with training and research institutions.
In 2004, PPDA put in place a capacity-building strategy it now uses to conduct specialised and customised training for stakeholders in the procurement process. PPDA has also developed training modules and conducts workshops for government and private entities.
What future plans does the PPDA have?
It plans to facilitate the procurement profession to make a significant contribution in the development of Uganda. For that to happen, we need to focus on results and not merely on compliance to rules.
The authority hopes there will be a law to regulate the procurement profession and is working towards this. PPDA is also planning to exploit recent technological developments by adopting e-procurement, which has clear benefits in terms of efficiency, transparency and decreased transaction costs for bidders who have to submit bulky documentation.
The authority also plans to increase staffing to better manage the growing number of government departments around the country. This, and regional representation, would allow for a quicker response to the entities’ needs, thus improving procurement practices.