Government procurement activities are the most vulnerable to corruption more than ever. Each year billions of Ghana Cedis are spent on buying goods and services for public projects and programs. Contracts from roads, housing, agriculture, government vehicles, schools and hospitals make up the cow’s milk. These call for big budgets and complex plans to meet targets. Why is a public procurement an ideal opportunity for corruption? Companies and individuals with high political connections often win bids in unfair competition or companies within the same industry can rig their bids, so each gets a piece of the cake. The convolutedness of the process, the close interaction between shadow governments and the multitude of stakeholders make a good recipe for fraud and corruption. Due to the high profitability attached to government procurements, everyone wants to have a friend and a political connection to increase their tendency to win a contract. According to the Transparency International, it increases the cost of services to the public; which corruption can add as much as 50 per cent to a project’s costs. The avoidance of public procurement infractions and ensuring transparency, efficiency and accountability of the public purse led to the enactment of the Public procurement (amendment) Act 2016 (Act 914).
The implementation of the Act has been quite challenging. In the quest to eschew procurement fraud, the fraud smiles at us higher than having any hope of being mitigated. In public procurement, about 10 agencies of government may buy the same brand of furniture at grossly different prices. The Vice President, Dr. Bawumia posited that a $4.6bn interoperability system now built for less than $4m. He further expounded, “One company bids GHC 14 million and another company, for the same scope of work, bids 5 million Ghana cedis. A third company, for the same scope of work, bids 4.6 billion Ghana cedi and guess who won? 4.6 billion cedis won that bid”. The former Sports Minister, Afriyie Ankrah, ‘confessed’ that “dubious contracts are sometimes awarded to businessmen and sponsors of political parties as favours (clientelism and patronage), which by implication are in breach of the procurement law”. Looking back from today, we could recap of the GH¢3.6 Million Smartty’s Bus branding saga, $600 Million Ameri deal, $178 KelniGVG deal, and the recent National Youth Employment procurement and financial improprieties. These are few procurement scandals and many more enough to expound the porosity of public procurement contraventions. It is easy to violate the procurement laws because the Public Procurement Authority (PPA) has no power to prosecute. It can bark but can’t bite.
Corruption in procurement is a big problem in Ghana. Public institutions and state-owned or sponsored enterprises need to procure goods and services to carry out their responsibilities and duties expected of them. However, legitimate deviations from the procurement rules are unending, and the best briber wins the procurement contract is endless. The winner then intends buying inferior materials to recoup the lost funds during the procurement process and the cycle goes on unabated. As a result, these contract winners would fail to meet contract standard and reduce quality of work.
In few weeks ago, the Chief Executive Officer of the Public Procurement Authority, Mr. Agyenim Boateng Adjei, was suspended by the President, H. E. Nana Akuffo Addo for his alleged involvement in the sale of government contracts. What a shame if that’s true! It will mean the CEO failed to uphold high ethical standards and moral values of honesty and professionalism and it calls for a dismissal and prosecution which the later may never happen. Conflict of interest has gotten a seat at PPA and procurement officials salute it each day to embezzle public funds. It is however vivid that, corrupt suppliers easily obtain government procurement contracts over the few who may refuse to pay bribe. Such is the political society now.
Procurement laws were made to fight corruption but it looks like corruption is rather fighting procurement laws. There are lots of procurement scandals and they explain how corruption is more powerful than the legal antibiotic to fight it.
Peter Bismark. He is the director of organisational development and advocacy at CEBSAR-AFRICA and the CEO of ILAPI-GHANA