Speaking in Windhoek earlier this week during the launch of IPPR's latest Procurement Tracker bulletin, Links said it has become increasingly clear that the public sector lacks the necessary skills and expertise to run a modern and efficient public procurement system.
“A system-wide lack of competence and professionalism is clearly at the heart of why the public procurement system is underperforming and largely dysfunctional,” he said.
The Public Procurement Act was viewed as a game-changer in the public procurement space as it was meant to strengthen empowerment aspects, enhance the efficiency of the procurement board and improve the accountability and transparency of tender procedures and processes.
But despite its well-meaning intentions, the Act has not really improved the situation on the ground mainly on account of a lack of skills in the Procurement Policy Unit, which is responsible for providing or guiding training and ensuring professional standards within the system.
According to a draft strategy document by the unit, an estimated 1,000 officers across government departments, offices, and agencies, as well as state-owned enterprises, need to be trained on procurement.
The strategy document also makes it clear that it would take about 10 years to adequately professionalize the public procurement system if all envisaged training measures are introduced and functioning optimally.
In an interview with the Windhoek Observer, Links said the implementation of the Public Procurement Act has not been smooth sailing.
“We are definitely seeing a lot of implementation hiccups and non-compliance is a serious issue if you look at across the state sector. Compliance with the law is a big issue. Transparency is a big issue. The issue of accountability continues to be a big issue,” he said.
Links said that non-compliance to the Act affects service delivery as there is a lot of inflated pricing and irregular management of the public procurement process.
“The citizen or taxpayer is not getting value for money out of the system because rules are not being applied,” he said.
“There is no database for prices of goods and services, and we don’t have a database of service providers to government across the state sector from the local authorities to central government.
“These important components are all missing, affecting service delivery. People on the ground are actually experiencing the effects of this. Just look at the medicine tenders and the bankrupting of state institutions and the quality of work delivered. It has a very real impact on how government functions.”
He said although the new law is a step in the right direction, the way it was implemented was problematic.
“It was clearly a rushed implementation and we see it with the problems that the system is experiencing. There are certain things that were supposed to be in place which are not. We have a system that is limping around and busy breaking if it has not broken already.”
Problems with the Public Procurement Act were highlighted when Finance Minister Calle Schlettwein delivered his mid-term budget review statement in Parliament last week where he announced that the development budget implementation rate at the end of September 2019 stood at 37 percent.
He said part of government economic recovery and stimulus package entails accelerating the turnaround time for public procurement project adjudication and award, particularly for high-value projects across economic sectors.
Of the N$1.18 billion that was freed up through expenditure cuts during the Mid-Year Budget Review process, N$999.59 million came from the Development Budget.
Last month, TransNamib CEO Johny Smith complained that the slow public procurement process is a big headache.
He said TransNamib's procurement of locomotives has been held up for seven months by the Central Procurement Board.
Speaking to the Windhoek Observer on Tuesday, NUST Head of Procurement Rosemary Tjimbonde said the university has two projects that have been delayed since last year.
She said there has been a general lack of support from the Public Policy Unit, mainly due to a lack of proper communication channels that were not put in place.
Tjimbonde said there is a need to conduct a skills gap analysis within all supporting units and the Central Procurement Board of Namibia. She said this will create quick wins for the ministry as they will know what skills are lacking and what short courses are available to address them.
“Secondly, there is need to consult with other countries that have successfully implemented this Act or even better consult with the World Bank.”
Tjimbonde said procurement is no longer about pushing paper, and there is a need for entities to look at procurement as a strategic partner that creates value for companies