MB Subba

The government will launch the third phase of the electronic government procurement (e-GP) within this year, according to Ngultse Lyonpo (Finance Minister) Namgay Tshering.

The e-GP system facilitates all procuring agencies to publish tenders, corrigenda and notifications of the contract award.

Lyonpo said that the e-GP system was being implemented by all the government agencies.  He said that bids today were submitted electronically without the bidder having to visit the procuring agency’s office to submit the document.

“We’re in the second phase of implementing e-GP. It should be complied with by all our procurement agencies,” he said.

According to the minister, bidding and evaluation works will be carried out electronically after the government launches the third phase. “The e-GP will prevent corruption and save time,” Lyonpo said.

The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) registered more than 500 complaints related to the construction sector between 2006 and 2016.

As a tool to drive efficiency in the procuring system, the first phase of the e-GP system was launched in 2017.  The second phase was launched in July last year with enhanced features linking it to other government agencies or procuring agencies to improve efficiency.

However, the draft 21st Century Economic Roadmap states that the current procurement system does not provide incentive for the contractor to incorporate the long-term health and condition of the infrastructure beyond the stipulated “defect liability period”.

The roadmap, therefore, suggests that there is a need to review the current procurement system while also exploring alternative procurement modes that foster the builders’ engagement in the project beyond the construction phase.

The roadmap suggests that the procurement system should move from a transactional “bid, build, and handover” approach to a more relational model with the accountability of each party to the contract.

It explains, “A viable alternative is to call for bids for the whole package including the design, specification and estimation along with construction, and a built-in provision for maintenance of the infrastructure over its service life.”

This, it states, will bring about bids based on the market price and not based on the Bhutan Schedule of Rates (BSR).

The roadmap states that the new procurement framework could be applied where depreciation is high and results can be evaluated in a shorter period of time.  The shortcomings exposed in the current procurement system could then be addressed before a comprehensive roll-out.

However, the 21st Century Economic Roadmap does not mention electronic procurement.  One of the members of the economic roadmap taskforce said that it was not necessary for the roadmap to delve into e-procurement issues as the document covers broader policy issues.

“Issues such as e-procurement are being looked after by agencies,” he said.

Bhutan relies heavily on the import of construction materials from India.

With the availability of local raw materials such as timber, cement, sand and boulders, the roadmap states that the country needs to prioritise and work towards using these resources either in raw or value-added form.

The roadmap states the authorised agency should also ensure that the price is not exorbitant especially in the current pandemic context of local materials and facilitate the import of raw materials that are not locally available.

It highlights the need to support the establishment of a factory to manufacture prefabricated or readymade building materials. “In this regard, to encourage investment in such factories and precast manufacturing units, the use of prefabricated windows and doors should be mandatory for all public construction works for instance.”

The works and human settlement ministry, it states, should incorporate prefabricated windows, doors and other feasible parts in the Bhutan Schedule of Rates (BSR) to enable procuring agencies to account for it in their Bill of Quantities (BoQ).

Further, the construction sector is also beset by repeated cases of project delays and cost overrun. In 2017, 81 percent of the projects reported cost overrun and 64 percent were not completed within the stipulated period.

The prevalence of inferior quality of infrastructure and multiple cases of contractual disputes also raises the need to reflect on the current procurement system, standard of professionalism and, proficiency in the sector.