By Esther Nakkazi
Although one-third of government spending is done through public contracting, most African governments do not publish the information needed to track public spending on procurement, according to a regional analysis of 23 African countries conducted by the Open Contracting Partnership (OCP).
According to OCP research, while nearly all African nations analysed (91%) publish at least some information online, only two-thirds publish data on bid opportunities (65%) and 57%, publish data on who is awarded contracts.
“Over the last few years across Africa, many governments have struggled to procure, build, and institutionalise electronic government procurement systems despite tens of millions of dollars in headline Public Financial Management reforms from donors,” says Edwin Muhumuza, Head of Africa at Open Contracting Partnership.
The data is based on Fulfilling the promise of e-procurement reforms in Africa, OCP's latest comparative study on e-procurement in Africa provides guidance for making digital public procurement reforms more efficient, fair and transparent across the continent.
There is also the issue of how governments publish their procurement data.
Only five African countries, Cameroon, Kenya, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Uganda, publish data in machine-readable formats, dramatically limiting how the information can be used to ensure that public contracts benefit society as intended.
The analysis is based on the Global Data Barometer, an independent study of the quality and use of open data worldwide.Nigeria stands alone as the only country that publishes some data across the full procurement cycle including planning, tender, award, and implementation.
Bad procurement policies mean run-down roads, under-resourced schools and non-existing healthcare centers, and quite often, elements of state capture.
Transforming manual and often paper-based public procurement to electronic government procurement systems can make government more efficient, fair and transparent.
“Public procurement has a reputation as being bureaucratic, inefficient and wasteful,” says Muhumuza.
The report provides eight key recommendations in addition to practical tools built on the latest research by experts around the world as well as insights from practitioners in five countries – Ethiopia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Uganda, and Zambia.
National and county governments in five countries are publishing open contracting data, including Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Uganda and Zambia. Five more places have committed to open contracting reforms including Sierra Leone, South Africa, Tunisia, and the city of Tangier in Morocco.
"It will be important to build a coalition of change, comprising stakeholders from various parts of government as well as non-government champions, to overpower blockers so that enough winners accrue from the new system that ‘escape velocity’ be achieved, and the system is actually appreciated and used," says Muhumuza.
A procurement ecosystem has grown in Africa in the last decade. Investigative journalists such as Nigeria’s Dataphyte, civil society organizations such as the Uganda-based Africa Freedom of Information Centre (AFIC), and prominent anti-corruption campaigns in Kenya and South Africa have shown how public procurement data can be used to track money going into vital projects such as primary health care centers, schools and public works. This kind of civic monitoring ensures better value.
“Those leading e-procurement reforms need to engage civic actors, service beneficiaries and business stakeholders to build a coalition. A program of change needs to be designed and built ‘with them’ and not ‘for them’,” says Muhumuza, the author of the study.