Every year, the government spends millions of Ngultrums on works like replacing worn out tyres, buying furniture, constructing roads, bridges, and schools.
Tendering out these projects has been an issue for both the procuring agency and those vying for the work. It is a lucrative business as there are millions spent both in recurring and capital expenditure. And, therefore, it has not gained the public trust. Many perceive that the procurement business is riddled with collusion, bribery and even outright corruptions.
As a tool to drive efficiency in the procuring system, the electronic government procurement system or e-GP was launched in 2017. Yesterday, Phase II was launched with enhanced features linking it to other government agencies or procuring agencies to improve efficiency. Bids will now be evaluated online while tedious manual work like cross-checking data and sharing information is streamlined.
Like the Finance Minister said the e-GP would iron out a lot of ambiguities in interpreting the procurement rules by different agencies. But the e-GP address only one side of the problem. The e-GP will be an integral part of the government’s plan for digitisation. At the same time how this digitisation helps clear the air of suspicion in government procurement still remains.
Those bidding on the e-GP system are still complaining of the technology not being able to get rid of the human problem. Many say that beyond reducing paperwork, waste of paper for some, there still needs a lot of ironing in the procurement system.
Transparency is still a problem. Tenders, big and small, are allegedly won through the syndication of bids where bidders are bribed to raise their estimates. Tender committees are alleged to collude or leak decisive information to their relatives, friends if to those who pay for it. Even with the e-GP, these allegations are not stopping.
This is because digitisation is not stopping favouritism, nepotism or outright corruption. Nothing is done about it because the audit or government authorities need proof. The irony is that everyone claims to know about it but no one will go on record with the information. Recently a complainant stopped at the DNP when he was asked Nu 5,000 if his complain was to be looked into.
If the e-GP is also to ensure the prudent use of government resources, the procurement system should look beyond awarding works. This is where the bigger problem starts. The quality of work, the materials used, manipulating specifications to maximise profits are not only costing the government coffer, but also hampering public service. We need not look far for an example. The road to the Olakha automobile workshop couldn’t be fixed even after the Royal Audit Authority pointed out lapses. The joke is that workshop owners want to keep the road bad to ensure more business.
Perhaps, we need a Phase III, a system to plug loopholes in the procurement business. The e-GP might reduce human error, but not deliberate manipulations, for instance.