Saturday, 13 October 2018

Award of contract: Is Buhari different from Jonathan?

Award of contract: Is Buhari different from Jonathan?

By continuing with an opaque system of awarding and approving major contracts, this administration has not only reneged on its campaign promises, but has created room for analysts to doubt its fight against corruption.

Public procurement is the space where major acts of corruption take place. Thus, by not ensuring that the Procurement Act is followed to the letter, after about 2 years in office, the President has made his fight against corruption contentious.

In the campaign trail, the President's party accused former President Jonathan's federal executive council (FEC) of usurping the powers of the National Council on Public Procurement (NCPP) by approving and awarding contracts. But this hasn't changed.

Instead, the President, who promised to kill corruption, has continued awarding contracts without the NCPP – a regulatory body, created by law, to set thresholds to values of contracts that an awarding ministry or agency can approve. (The higher the value of contract the higher the level of authority that can award it.)

The non-constitution of the NCPP – a council which includes the NBA, the media, Chambers of Commerce, Institutes of Supply and Purchasing, Nigeria Society of Engineers and the like and is enabled by law to supervise the activities of the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP) – creates room for business as usual, in terms of corruption.

In setting public procurement policies and guidelines, the law allows members of the NCPP to vote and debate issues. But Buhari's federal executive council has continued with the culture of awarding and approving contracts without adequate public scrutiny.

This opaqueness doesn't stop here. By not constituting the NCPP, a council which has the mandate to supervise the activities of the BPP and even to oversee the appointments of its principal officers, this government has surreptitiously turned the BPP into a rubber stamp. (This is a culture the President met but has not changed.)

The award and approval of contracts have been taking place despite a major lacuna.

The recent report by Premium Times shows a perfect example where this lacuna is being exploited. Premium Times's report that that the current administration is perfecting plans to award an $800 million power contract to CTC, an American power company, without intending to go through a competitive bidding and tendering process makes a mockery of Buhari's fight against corruption.

The newspaper also reported that recommendations on why CTC was most suited for the job has been made to the minister of power by some bureaucrats.

This is a major flaw in the fight against corruption. The NCPP is best suited to make guidelines concerning projects that are supposed to be given special procurement status.

Also, by not inaugurating the NCPP, the President exposes his ministers to corruption. Presently, ministers, in conjunction with the unsupervised BPP, formulates all kinds of policies governing procurement. This shouldn't be.

Besides, many thought the President would take FEC to the level it should be. Normally, great leaders with their ministers, in other jurisdictions, spend their time thinking about visions, strategies and formulating policies, not haggling over contracts.

The non-inauguration of the NCPP would always be a major distraction to current ministers, as they are likely to spend a lot of effort attending to contracts. And this is on the premise that they are not there because of contracts.

This has to stop and the President has to institutionalize the Procurement Act. Last Wednesday's approval by FEC for the purchase of firefighting equipment to check fire outbreaks in the country is another example where a noble action could breed corruption.

There is no doubt that FEC is the highest decision-making executive organ recognized by the constitution, but contracts brought for its approval have to pass through due process. As noble as this gesture is, FEC has approved a contract that has not passed through due process because the activities of BPP, which might have had an input in that contract, can be deemed illegal because it is not complemented by the NCPP, as instituted by the law

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