Public procurement system reform hailed

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Thabo Qhesi
Thabo Qhesi

Rethabile Pitso

THE Private Sector Foundation of Lesotho (PSFL) has welcomed the government’s initiative to restructure the public procurement system.

Addressing a press briefing on Tuesday this week, PSFL Chief Executive Officer Thabo Qhesi said the proposed system had the potential to restore the private sector’s ailing confidence in competitive bidding.

The government has engaged a private consultant, Mbuba Mbungu of B-Operations and Procurement to assist with the restructuring process. The project, which started in May this year, is being undertaken in partnership with the Ministry of Finance, with funding coming from Lesotho’s development partners.

Among other things, the consultant proposes for 20 new standard bidding documents to be incorporated into the public procurement system.

“As PSFL we are especially happy with the consultant’s outlined framework which recommends the 20 bidding documents,” said Mr Qhesi.

“It has factored in international procurement standards and practices and will go a long way in restoring confidence in the bidding process. “This means if, for instance, a bidder lodges a complaint, the government would be required to disclose the ‘Record of Minutes Pre-Tender Meeting’ document that would offer more insight on the query.”

The PSFL boss said the approval by parliament of the new draft policy would repeal the “heavily flawed” Procurement Regulations of 2007.

“Upon the consultant’s investigations leading to the new draft, many flaws were discovered which included gaps in the procurement policy that resulted in many corrupt activities,” he said.

“He (consultant) discovered at least 90 percent of cases reported at the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences were related to procurement. It was further established there was a lot of interference from higher officials in influencing tender awards.”

Mr Qhesi added: “Mr Mbungu’s findings also detected high occurrences of overpayments or double payments in the system that could have been brought about by incompetent procurement officers in some departments.”

The report also unearthed complications emanating from loopholes in the current procurement policy.

“The report showed the current policy lacked clear-cut procurement planning which rendered it poor. For instance, there was evidence most procurement officers over-spent unnecessarily during the end of the government financial year, otherwise known as March Final,” he said.

“The report also shows complaints arising from bidding were often deferred to the courts instead of seeking less expensive means of resolving the matters.”

Mr Qhesi said the consultant’s draft policy which encloses the aforementioned recommendations would be submitted to parliament following a public scrutiny to be held tomorrow.

Upon parliament’s approval of the draft, he said, the Public Procurement Advisory Division which is winged within the Ministry of Finance would be established as an independent department tasked with offering procurement services without undue influence.

“We are of the belief that most procurement errors or failures are related to absence of independence in the Public Procurement Advisory Division. Because of its location in the Ministry of Finance, it is most likely to be making influential decisions,” noted Mr Qhesi.

“This division was expected to carry out public procurement oversight functions across all public entities, including capacity building, research and policy formulation.”

“This has not happened because in the absence of Public Procurement Law, the regulations alone cannot give the division legal authority to access records and information from public entities,” he added.

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