Show me your cards!

01 February 2013
Author   J.W. ASHEEKE

THERE is a new plague of advertisements for consultants that asks for “Expressions of Interest” or “Pre-qualification submissions” or “Call for qualified consultants for a pool of potential applicants” instead of flat out calls for tenders and bids.

 

These euphemisms are smokescreens. Some lawyer told everyone that making something an ‘expression of interest’ rather than a call for bids, shields them from the potential legal entanglements if the process is called off or challenged.

These wordy tap-dances are actually calls for direct applications to do a job. As a consultant, I think it is highly unfair to ask applicants to spend the intense amount of time, resources and administrative costs to prepare a bid and to present their detailed plan and budget for the programme in order to ‘express interest.’ That is tantamount to saying: “You show me all of your cards and I have access to your ideas to use as I choose and I don’t have to give you anything in return, OK?”

For a bid or tender . . . certainly, you have to lay your cards on the table and let the chips fall as they will. But, for those HR people and boards out there, Expressions of Interest are just that, EXPRESSIONS. Either the board or management involved really does not know any better OR the demand for bid specifics on an ‘expression’ is purposeful, calculated, broad daylight theft of intellectual property.

I recall two particular jobs for which I unsuccessfully applied some time ago as an example of my point. In one case, applicants were asked to give their detailed plan for the growth and expansion of a company.

We were asked to provide an organigram of how the institution should be structured, the budget for the change management process and a re-design for a particular product the company owned. I spent weeks researching the institution, talking to other professionals doing similar work, benchmarking salaries and other costs and preparing the application packet. I was short-listed and did the interview, explaining my vision, my design, my plan and the projected outputs.

I did not get the job and for me, that’s life; so I moved on and didn’t concern myself with it any further. Not two months later, the person appointed to the post, announced a program for that company which was identical to the program I used for my application. To this day, I believe that my intellectual property rights were purposefully stolen through the use of an application process.

In the other case, I was asked to list the contacts with addresses of where I would go to raise funds for a particular program. This, I refused to do having been burned in terms of intellectual property before. Instead, I outlined HOW I would go about a fundraising plan, what was required for successful fundraising, and the components of a successful program and what I was prepared to do in that regard.

I was told during the interview that I needed to be specific and give them a list of fundraising and networking contacts as well as a marketing plan for their particular products. At that point, I realized I was not going to get the job. I looked around the room and saw that search committee with pens poised waiting for me to spill the beans. Instead, they heard me repeat what I had was in the application letter. I could see the disappointment on a few of their faces.

Later in an educational follow-up with one of the search committee members who was not from that company, I asked what I needed to do to improve my interview skills. I was told that there was nothing wrong with my skills; I was great.

But, the company people on that search committee wanted specific details so that the person who emerged as the head of this program would have a list of funding possibilities and contacts as well as desktop research tools to use to start their efforts. I think that is daylight robbery of someone else’s expertise.

A real expression of interest normally outlines the competence and proven track record of the applicant. It is their company profile, list of similar jobs completed, references, and a statement that they have the capacity and resources to do the job. It is never supposed to be specific about the job itself!

Pre-qualification submissions are reasonable at times, particularly for construction bidding, where you want a specific pool of applicants to vie for highly technical work. It is not a good use of HR time to have companies that don’t have the minimal requirements clogging up the tender process and taking away time from consideration of viable candidates’ bids. Certainly, you don’t want a corner store operation with a staff of two who specialize in building braais and fireplaces, sending in their bid to construct a 20 storey office building.

But asking for pre-qualifications where the items requested for pre-qualification, are in fact, the exact BID for the job, is again, opening the door for stealing intellectual property.

While we are on the subject of bids and tenders, I also am gravely concerned about applications for international organizations in particular, that want your bank records to see if you’ve ever done a job at the financial level of the job you are applying for. I can see the need for bank verifications that you are creditable and not fly-by-night. But, why should anyone have access to my vendors and see my spending patterns and deposits (and from whom those deposits came!) for the last two financial years? That is private information! Those application packets are typically left all over the place, photocopied repeatedly and sent all around; there is no confidentiality involved.

On some search committees where I have served, I’ve seen competent smaller companies disqualified for bids on work they likely can complete well, simply because the contract is for an amount larger than any work they have done before. For example, a company that has gross revenue for a fiscal year of about N$800,000 will not be considered for a contract of N$3 million. If they never get the chance to do these larger contracts because they have not ever done larger contracts, then until when will they GET the experience and track record to break this limiting circle? What comes first, the chicken or the egg? Because of this, SMEs are likely to stay as SMEs forever.

Another tender issue of concern is honesty and trust. A co-consultant warned a friend of mine that if the deadline for a bid is 5 pm January 10th, then they should only submit their proposal in the afternoon of that last day; never before. This is to block people receiving the bid from reading or photocopying the bid and telling their friends (who are also bidding), that information. My friend lost two tenders before she was warned about this and won the very next one when she was in the ‘know.’ That could be just her luck, but it speaks volumes to my suspicious mind.

Need we review the recently cancelled tender for a damn to be constructed in the South and the railway line and the Tender Board officials that was arrested for messing around with bid documents in favor of someone who paid him to support their submission?

Violation of intellectual property rights will soon become a ‘household-word’ crime like embezzlement and credit card cloning. Until then, give consultants and potential job applicants a break please. If you want a bid, say so. Stop clouding the field with tricky words that mean the same thing. If I lay my cards on the table it should be for a bid, not an expression.

WINDHOEK OBSERVER

The Windhoek Observer is an English-language weekly newspaper, published in Namibia by Paragon Investment Holding. It is the country's oldest and largest circulating weekly.

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