By Oladapo Olatunde
Public procurement refers to the acquisition by governments and state-owned organisations of goods, works and services, using public funds. It also deals with the disposal of used assets of the government, acquired with public funds. Some of the key features of public procurement include openness, competitiveness, transparency, accountability and value for money.
In Lagos State, the Public Procurement Agency (PPA) was established in 2012 to ensure probity, accountability, competitiveness and transparency in public procurement in the State. Using the instrumentality of the Law setting it up, the Agency has substantially succeeded in bringing the culture of due process in public procurement to the consciousness of all stakeholders in the procurement process.
Having worked closely with the pioneer General Manager of the Agency, Engr. Akin Onimole, from inception, incumbent General Manager, Mr. Fatai Idowu Onafowote, was not unaware of the onerous responsibility of the Agency to change the status quo in the public procurement process. To achieve its statutory mandate, therefore, a multi-pronged approach was adopted.
First, for the old deep-seated habits and practices that characterized the old order ( before the establishment of the Agency) to be rid of, it was realized that stakeholders must be continuously educated, sensitized and re-oriented for their understanding, support and cooperation to be secured by the Agency. Therefore, advocacy and enlightenment campaigns were intensified to engage with both internal and external stakeholders.
The objective is to let stakeholders know that “there is a new Sheriff in town” (to borrow a metaphor frequently used by the General Manager of the Agency) so that they can fully align with the provisions of the Procurement Law, Regulations and Guidelines of the Agency, thereby enhancing compliance with due process in public procurement.
In the second quarter of 2019, one giant step which has radically revolutionized the public procurement process in the State was taken. This was the introduction of online registration/renewal of contractors, suppliers and service providers as well as keeping a databank of same.
This was followed with the deployment of e-Procurement Solution Modules to three pilot MDAs of the State, namely Ministries of Education, Health and Works and Infrastructure. The deployment of the e-Procurement Solution Modules (e-tendering, e-bidding, e-publishing, e-evaluation and e-notification of award) to the procurement process of the MDAs is intended to enhance transparency, probity, competitiveness, openness and above all, enhance the ease of doing business with the State Government.
With the deployment of the e-Procurement modules, a bidder does not have to physically present himself to the MDA where he wants to bid for a job, just as officials of an MDA no longer have to submit to the Procurement Agency loads of bid documents as was hitherto the case. Now, a registered contractor is only required to use his/her computer system from the comfort of his home or office to visit the Agency’s website where contracts are advertised. In as much as any interested person is qualified for the job, he/she can apply online, have his/her bid submitted and evaluated online and receive notice of award online, provided the bid is successful.
Vital benefits of the e-Procurement system include reduction of all forms of human interaction to the barest minimum, enhancement of transparency, competitiveness, efficiency, cost effectiveness and accountability. Above all, it enhances the ease of doing business which is a major objective of the administration of Mr. Babajide Olusola Sanwo-Olu in Lagos State.
The huge success recorded from the deployment of the modules to the procurement process of the three pilot MDAs and the unflinching support received from the state government served as an encouragement to bring additional seven MDAs on the e-Procurement platform of the Agency in 2020. The affected MDAs are Ministries of Housing, Transportation, Agriculture, Waterfront Infrastructure Development as well as the Office of Environment Services, Office of Drainage Services and Primary Healthcare Board.
Presently, in a bid to keep the pace with the drive of the Sanwo-Olu Administration to improve the ease of doing business in the state, the Agency has set an ambitious target of onboarding 97 additional MDAs into the e-Procurement platform of the Agency in the current year. Affected MDAs have been divided into four groups, with each of the groups scheduled for onboarding on the platform on a quarterly basis.
As a demonstration of its commitment towards ensuring that the target of deploying the e-Procurement solution modules to the 97 additional MDAs is achieved, the Agency has already onboarded 20 of the MDAs scheduled for integration in the first quarter of the year on the e-Procurement platform. Affected MDAs are: Ministries of Energy and Mineral Resources, Justice, Science and Technology, Local Government and Community Affairs, Youth and Social Development, Women Affairs and Poverty Alleviation, Special Duties and Intergovernmental Affairs and Physical Planning and Urban Development.
Others are: Lagos State Universal Basic Education Board ( SUBEB), Lagos State Ferry Services (Lagferry), New Towns Development Authority (NTDA), Office of Special Adviser on Education (OSAE), Lagos State Infrastructure Assets Management Agency (LASIAMA), Lagos State Electricity Board, Lagos Water Corporation, Public Works Corporation, Lagos State Waste Management Authority (LAWMA), Lagos Internal Revenue Service (LIRS), Grant Management Unit (GMU) and the Special Committee on Rehabilitation of Public Schools (SCRPS).
The implication of the successful integration of the MDAs into the e-Procurement platform is that their procurement processes have gone live. This means that registered contractors, suppliers and service providers can only transact business with the MDAs online.
The remaining 77 MDAs scheduled for integration on the e-Procurement platform will be onboarded in batches within the remaining three quarters of the year.
To ensure that the deployment of the system continues to operate without hitch, the Agency has continued to build the capacity of relevant personnel in the MDAs who are involved in managing the system.
It is also instructive to stress that the Agency has equally strengthened its partnership with relevant Agencies such as State Treasury Office (STO), Lagos Internal Revenue Service (LIRS), Ministry of Science and Technology, the Central Internal Audit Office, Alpha Beta Consulting (ABC), Soft Alliance and the Central Billing System. This is with a view to ensuring synergy of purpose and achieving the desired objective of enhancing the ease of doing business.
With the synergy with these MDAs and private sector organisations, the Agency’s portal has been successfully linked with online payment platforms, thereby making virtual payments by contractors, suppliers and service providers to the government’s coffers possible. This has greatly eliminated stress and pains usually experienced in the past by those transacting business with the state government. It has also enhanced accountability and transparency, which are important ideals in the public procurement process.
-Olatunde is Deputy Director, Public Affairs, Lagos State Public Procurement Agency, Alausa, Ikeja