By Amin Kef Sesay
In a statement dated 18th February, 2021 issued by the Budget Advocacy Network (BAN), the organization highlighted that it has observed with keen interest the recent actions of the National Public Procurement Authority (NPPA), which seem to be defending defaulting Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) rather than being the regulator in different circumstances.
It revealed that on the 27th, January 2021, during the public hearing of the COVID-19 audit report by the Public Accounts Committee of Parliament, the NPPA defended MDAs on the procurement of bikes for the COVID-19 Response.
BAN continued that, for instance, the COVID-19 audit noted that a middleman was used to procure 230 Bikes at an inflated cost of twenty-one million, seven hundred and two thousand Leones (Le 21,702,000) per unit rather than going directly to the primary supplier who is based in Freetown and Bo for a price of twelve million, five hundred thousand Leones (Le 12,500,000) per unit adding that the NPPA did defend this procurement thereby neglecting the aspect of value for money, which is one of their (NPPA’s) core mandates.
It again furthered that on the 16th, February 2021, during the “Gud Mornin Salone Programme” on Radio Democracy, FM 98.1, the NPPA also defended all the sole-sourcing procurements of the Office of the Chief Minister.
Ban said even though the laws make provisions for sole-sourcing in certain situations, it is concerned over the use of that clause for some procurements.
Giving an example, the institution pointed at the issue of the procurement of three vehicles for the Office of Directorate of Science, Technology and Innovation (DSTI), in which the NPPA stated that sole-sourcing was used because the price quoted was slightly below what are in the price norms.
The organization asked the question: Were all the criteria for sole-sourcing fulfilled? The institution said they believe that the reason given or advanced by the NPPA will not promote healthy competition and fairness in the procurement process in Sierra Leone.
BAN revealed that it is also concerned that the NPPA is actually neglecting some aspect of its statutory role of properly monitoring national procurements of which tax payers’ monies are used to pay their salaries.
It underscored that as the regulator, the aim is to ensure there is no monopoly in using a set of rules for relief purposes instead of ensuring the desired outcomes, which is to see that the right procurement procedures are followed to the letter.
The institution added that, if not addressed, monopoly, as a result of the sole-sourcing provision, will erode the people’s confidence and that would be detrimental to domestic revenue generation.
“We wish to state with emphasis that the NPPA’s statutory role as per the 2016 Act is to regulate and harmonize public procurement processes in the public service sector and promote economic development, which includes building capacities in the field of public procurement by ensuring value for money in public expenditures and participation in public procurement,” BAN said categorically.
It continued that the NPPA needs to be reminded that public procurement is critical for accountability of public expenditure also maintaining how the process also supports good governance and assists with economic and social development and public trust in Government.
Procurement malpractices, it asserted, are enormous in almost every audit report published by the Audit Service Sierra Leone, which is alarming more so for an area where Government is spending close to two-third of the national budget.
In conclusion, BAN said in keeping to the desired call for procurement correctness and rid potential corruption emanating from procurement issues, the NPPA should stand ready to safeguard and strengthen the Authority rather than seen to be defending entities suspected to have breached public procurement processes or not respecting value for money.
Reacting to BAN’s Statement during the “Gud Mornin Salone” program on Radio Democracy, FM 98.1 of the 19th February 2021, the Chief Executive Officer of NPPA, Ibrahim Brima Swarray ,in a telephone interview denied all the points raised by BAN, stating that NPPA had been adhering to best practices and had in no way attempted to defend errant procurement procedures carried out by MDAs, further emphasizing that his institution is keen on these MDAs undertaking public procurement according to laid down stipulations.
What, however, came out glaringly after the program, when this medium conducted a perception survey, was that public opinion unanimously condemned the NPPA Boss for defending MDAs that are flouting or circumventing procurement procedures.
Most that this medium talked to express the view that the defence put up by the NPPA’s CEO, during the radio telephone interview, was rather hollow, incoherent, not convincing in anyway with most saying he was very bogus as well as egoistic in his submissions.
The Budget Advocacy Network is organized around the three principles of the budget process i.e., Participation, transparency and Accountability.
BAN is composed of local and international organizations such as the Christian Aid (CA), Campaign for Good Governance (CGG), Network Movement for Justice and Development (NMJD), Western Area Budget Education Advocacy Network (WABEAN), ActionAid Sierra Leone (AASL), Search for Common Grounds (SFCG) and Transparency International Sierra Leone (TISL).