I have always argued that the tendering process as we currently have it in Rwanda is not fit for purpose. Mainly because, the whole thing about public procurement and accountability is so confusing and extremely ambiguous that rogue and smart public officials will always find it easy to cheat.
Decentralisation as we know it, is useful, but not always. When you have such bodies like the National Tender Board based in the capital and laws demanding all tenders above US $ 6500, be channelled through it, then you have a problem.
Because, what then happens in a country like Rwanda so keen to develop, is a backlog of tenders. Such, then forces the NTB to pass over some tenders back to districts or institutions to be handled through Tender Evaluation Committees which, it has since been proven, present means for these rogue public servants to cheat the system.
Reading The New Times today, i got the feeling that the tender process as we have it in Rwanda is doomed to continue failing those it was set up to protect. For, irrespective of how many public servants this government puts behind bars over tenders, the temptation to cheat, remains.
Of course the question now becomes, can we work without a National Tender Board? Answer is NO. We need a Tender Board that is capable of ensuring that transparency happens not after the tender has been submitted for review but from the time a tender is announced to the time it is effectively executed. It means, powers to handle tenders however small or big MUST rest in the hands of independent adjudicators who MUST then report to both the Tender Board and the Tender Evaluation Committees. This may not necessarily end the temptation to cheat the system but at least, it makes it harder for the cheat to compromise both the Tender Board and Evaluation Committee members.
Jailing those who flaunt the system is of course the other option but as long as the process provides for the possibility of striking deals with two or three of the members of the deciding panels, then business men as well as rogue public servants will always strike deals.
The other issue that needs addressing is the problem of administrative delays in the processing public tenders. This delay can often be frustrating to the general public or to the private suppliers who have tendered for a particular project. Experience has shown that it is these delays that normally force businessmen to start forcing their way into the tendering process in a bid to speed up the process. This then provides that much needed platform for officials and businessmen to strike dubious deals – a curse, that continues to wreck our tendering process.