Many African countries have made the fight against corruption and improving governments a priority. Tremendous progress has been made since those countries ratified the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) in 2003.
The Convention against Corruption has been the foundation upon which Africans have built strong laws, regulations and procedures that have enhanced our ability to manage our government resources and money. Some countries have met the requirements of UNCAC. Some have not…!
In public procurement, some African countries have met the initial requirements and recommendations of UNCAC by establishing rules and procedures addressing, for example:
- Objective, unbiased decision making
- Publication of procurement opportunities
- Establishment and publication of qualification and award qualification prior to issuing solicitation
- Removal of all obstacles to equal participation in solicitation opportunities
- Specifications that clearly define requirements and are not biased toward any particular vendor
- Conflicts of interest, signed declarations of interest and prohibition from participation
- Confidential information
In addition, violation of the provisions of the national public procurement acts is considered a crime subject to incarceration and fines. Civil violations may result in disbarment of the vendor and termination of the government employee’s employment. Trainings have provided to government employees, potential vendors and the general public. Civil parties have been included on evaluation teams. Vendors may appeal decisions and review meaningful review of their complaints.
Is there room for improvement? YES. Is there need for more assistance in these areas? YES.
The reality is, however, that with all their efforts, corruption as measured by Transparency International has not appreciably decreased as a result in Africa. With all the rules, procedures and training required by UNCAC and with all that have been added by countries, the odds of getting caught are still small compared to the benefits of fraudulent gain – remember according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) it is 100’s of billions of dollars.
Although review of contracts over certain monetary thresholds may be effective, only the tip of the iceberg is uncovered. The mass of corruption is where it can’t be seen. More troubling, with limited resources, review thresholds are raised and even fewer contracts are actually reviewed before award. This has happened everywhere in Africa!
What I would like to draw your attention on as a reader of this piece of work is ACCOUNTABILITY: Corruption and fraud thrive and prosper when there is no meaningful accountability. Were the required procedures followed? transparent? objective? fair? unbiased? Are our vendors qualified? Are they real or phantoms? Do our specifications bias a particular vendor? Splitting of tenders justified? Sole source contracts justified? Evaluations conducted in accordance with pre-established criteria? The questions go on and on.
The sheer volume of transactions involved in public procurement makes it difficult to prevent and detect corruption as it occurs on case-by-case basis. According to UNODC, procurement is 15-30% of the Gross Domestic Product of most nations. Of this, 20-25% of total public contract value is lost to corruption each year. A loss of 100’s of billions of dollars.
We cannot fool ourselves. Corruption has and will always exist. We must do all we can to prevent it. Information technology has expanded our options.
Information technology provides a major weapon in the fight against corruption. It is not new, but it is new to government procurement. It has been used by others with tremendous success. For example, if I try to use my credit card downstairs at the book store. Denied. Why? Not because of lack of funds but because it triggers an unusual pattern of behavior alert. It raises a red flag that further investigation is necessary.
The Public Procurement Review Software (goPRS) will do this for public procurement as well. goPRS is a suite of software packages that enable centralized regulatory authorities to oversee and monitor procurement solicitations and contract awards carried out by decentralized ministries, departments, and agencies to ensure that government expenditures are within approved budget limits, as planned and in accordance with the due process requirements of law. Through the early detection irregularities and suspicious patterns or behaviors, goPRS assists regulatory bodies in the prevention and detection of public procurement corruption. As a real-time data based system, goPRS allow countries to make sense of seemingly random data. It provides greater accountability. It sends the message that someone is watching.
Its Intelligence package is an evidence-based tool that collects and analyzes data on patterns of offenses related to a public procurement process to provide solid and actionable evidence of possible corruption and its nature. It is designed to gather and analyze historic data to determine what led to fraud, waste and abuse. What were the early warning signs? Could we have stopped it earlier? Could we have stopped it before the contract was awarded? Did we have to wait until the contract had failed, the money is gone, the vendor has disappeared, and the citizens are denied the benefits of the project intended for them?
In 10 years we will be amazed how we ever thought we could curb corruption without information technology. But we will remember that it started with goPRS and in Africa!
 See http://goprs.unodc.org/goprs/en/goprs-suite.html