World Bank team to vet FG contracts

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President Goodluck Johnathan

President Goodluck Johnathan

President Goodluck Jonathan said he will soon set up a desk of World Bank officials in his office to vet all Federal Government contracts irrespective of work done on those contracts by other existing structures.

In an interview with the Tell magazine, published in its current edition dated February 20, Jonathan said this measure was aimed at reducing corruption in the procurement system.

“The process of procurement in the MDAs (ministries, departments and agencies) is also another area we have corruption. We have set up various committees to look into it. We have the Bureau for Public Procurement, BPP, but that has not completely stopped corruption in procurement. We still hear stories. Not long ago, I had to redeploy some directors. We are doing everything to reduce corruption.

“Very soon we will get people from the World Bank to be at my office. For every contract we want to award, irrespective of the structures we have on the ground, they will assess it, so that if a job is supposed to cost N10,000 and it’s awarded for N10,000, the likelihood of that contractor bribing anybody will be reduced. Even if he wants to do public relations, it will be minimal. It will not be like the scandalous thing we have now,” Jonathan said.

The new desk as proposed by the President is apparently going to usurp the responsibilities of the National Council of Public Procurement which the procurement law provides for but which has not been set up since the act was enacted in 2007.

At present, the BPP vets contracts for subsequent approval by the Federal Executive Council even though the law empowers only the yet-to-be-set up council to approve contracts.

When the TELL interviewers cut in to refer to the alleged inflation of Abuja airport road and Kubwa road contracts, the President said, “That is why I want to establish that desk directly in my office. I preside over the council that approves contracts. Before we approve any major contract, it will pass through that desk for further screening so that we know and compare the cost.

“The World Bank will only second some staff to work with us but they will not have control over them. Of course our own people will also join them. It is without prejudice to the BPP; their job will just be to help me have facts and make the best judgment. It is more like an advisory body.

“If the price is not okay, I return it to the BPP to look at it again. It will help us to gradually reduce over-invoicing of major contracts. So we are doing what we are doing to reduce corruption.”

Reacting to the President’s announcement, spokesman for the House of Representatives Zakari Mohammed (PDP, Kwara) said Jonathan “will be contradicting himself because there is Public Procurement Council established by law and the World Bank experts may be paid in hard currency which is another burden on government. I am sure the relevant committees of the House will look at it.”

He added that “what the president is doing amounts to selective compliance” because the House had passed a resolution in the past urging the President to establish the National Council on Public Procurement but he has not done that yet.

What the law says

The Public Procurement Act 2007 provides for the setting up the Bureau for Public Procurement and the National Council for Public Procurement to vet and award all Federal Government contracts, in line with set standards and price thresholds.

Section 2 of the law empowers the council to, among others, “consider, approve and amend the monetary and prior review thresholds for the application of the provisions of this Act by procuring entities consider and approve policies on public procurement.”

Section 4 of the act empowers the BPP to harmonise “existing government policies and practices on public procurement and ensuring probity, accountability and transparency in the procurement process; the establishment of pricing standards and benchmarks; ensuring the application of fair, competitive, transparent. value-for-money standards and practices for the procurement and disposal of public assets and services; and the attainment of transparency, competitiveness, cost effectiveness and professionalism in the public sector procurement system.”

Section 5 says the bureau, “subject to thresholds as may be set by the Council, certify Federal procurement prior to the award of contract; supervise the implementation of established procurement policies; (and) monitor the prices of tendered items and keep a national database of standard prices.”

Furthermore, the bureau shall “formulate the general policies and guidelines relating to public sector procurement for the approval of the council.”

Condemnation trails policy

There was condemnation yesterday over the President’s plan to set up the World Bank contract review desk in his office.

Executive director of the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre, Auwal Musa Rafsanjani, said Jonathan’s plan amounted to an indictment of the system and a vote of no confidence on the government.

“This is a self-indictment for the president to say BPP has failed to check corruption in procurement. He refused to inaugurate the National Council on Public Procurement, and he turned Federal Executive Council meeting into contract awarding meeting,” he said.

“If government is serious and interested in transparency in procurement, the President should set up the council. This council is supposed to provide policy direction, but he has failed to inaugurate it even after the National Assembly has passed several motions urging him to do that.

“So the problem is not about setting up a desk but of allowing the law to work. Setting up this desk is an insult to the law. The problem is about interference and the influence that government has on every contract. We are disappointed in this policy, and it shows clearly that the country is not getting it right.

“The President should not contemplate setting up this desk. It is like passing a vote of no confidence on the structures that we have, and passing a vote of no confidence on the whole government.”

Also, spokesman for the Conference of Nigerian Political Parties (CNPP), Mr. Osita Okechuckwu, said the establishment of a World Bank desk to vet contracts is unnecessary.

He added that what was needed was the political will on the part of the president to implement the BPP Act 2007.

“The BPP is doing what is humanly possible as enshrined in its enabling act. What we need is the political will on the part of the president to ensure that the provisions in the BPP Act are strictly adhered to. We don’t need any foreign body to do what the BPP is doing,” he said.

He said that one of the major leakages that need to be blocked by the president in the procurement process is payment of contactors at the stipulated time.

Okechukwu added that Nigerians are working and they “don’t need any foreign body to do the work we can successfully do. Jonathan needs to monitor the heads of the agencies properly.”

He said that the country can only accept World Bank support “if they don’t cost Nigeria any dime.”

Attempts to speak to Obadiah Thompet, Senior Communication Specialist, World Bank Nigeria office, was not successful. Thompet did not answer his calls and did not reply to a text message sent to him.

 

In : Nigeria

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