Procurement is fast becoming big business for many business organizations, as effective procurement management boosts institutional efficiency and competitiveness. Public procurement, for instance, plays a strategic role in saving operational costs, quality management and contract management. It also stimulates trade and fosters foreign direct investment, making up between 15% to 20% of our GDP.
Despite these progressive attributes, procurement also provides opportunities for corruption in environments with lax oversight mechanisms. In Kenya for example, procurement processes are used to steal and mismanage public funds with many procurement officers implicated in most corruption cases. In 2019, about 78 junior staff from the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) were interdicted for allegedly facilitating irregular fraudulent clearance of cargo, irregular issuance of compliance certificates and amending tax returns, to help some taxpayers evade taxes. In November, 2021, about 800 Kenya Medical Supplies Authority junior staff, were dismissed after a major procurement scandal rocked the agency. Kenya Power also suspended 59 procurement staff amid tender fights, involving top executives of the company.
The list goes on, demanding that we interrogate the role of each participant in the procurement process, if we are to understand and address the corruption related to procurement process. The procurement process involving procurement initiation, processing and receipt of goods, works or services is often usually handled by different officers, some of who are not procurement professionals. There is also the need identification, selection of bidders, invoice approval and payment to storage and store recording, which must be approved by the accounting officer.
The Accounting Officer must always ensure that procurement and asset disposal contracts are entered into and implemented lawfully. Further, procurement managers and directors with the delegated authority of Accounting Officers, are responsible for the coordination of purchases, contract negotiation and vendor management to ensure the strategy is implemented across the board.
There is also need to ensure that procurement process are handled by professionals. This is however not always the case. For instance, study reports have shown that procurement in most public schools and middle-level colleges, is done by accountants or bursars. Also, in some organizations, the purchasing function is under the finance directors and some procurement professionals even take instructions from the HR manager in contradiction to the procurement laws and procedures.
According to UNDP, investing in an effective public procurement system that is based on transparency and competition, can increase profitability and save the government huge sums of money. Political and top management interference in procurement is often cited by various studies, as the number one cause of non-compliance.
There is therefore, need for procurement officers to take full charge of their functions within public and private institutions. The Public Procurement and Assets Disposal Act, 2015 and the Public Procurement and Assets Disposal Regulations, 2020 should also be used to unravel the truth and to hold to account the officers found culpable of circumventing the procurement laws and systems.
Most important, those charged with finances at all levels must practice integrity and promote the public good. Leadership in any space, demands that one puts the interest of the public, and of those that they serve ahead of themselves.