Engineer Garba Peter Echono is the director of procurement, National Open University Of Nigeria (NOUN). In this interview with HENRY TYOHEMBA, he spoke on how much procurement process has helped the institution to boost transparency and rapid development.
What is procurement?
Procurement is the acquisition of public goods, works and services by public entities using public fund usually through a third party (contractors, suppliers and consultants for other service providers) through a systemic process for the purpose of human consumption for the comfort of human beings. When you are talking about public procurement we are saying procurement of goods, services and construction works on behalf of a public authority such as a government agency to prevent fraud, waste and corruption.
Why is it important for institutions to embark on procurement processes?
You see it’s just to avoid wastage. If you don’t follow the process, there would be some shortcut which is not beneficial to economic growth of any nation. Before now, the way procurement was done was very wrong so federal government decided that in order to cut wastage, there should be a guide and that guide is the procurement act. In fact, before now, there was an investigation carried out about the procurement processes and the wastage that in every one naira, 60 Kobo was wasted, federal government thought it wise that in order to block the wastage, there is need for an act to guide the procurement procedure.
There has been some crisis in some tertiary institutions about the management of Procurement processes. How do you think we can strengthen the act to overcome this crisis?
The act is strong enough, it’s just the parties that is the issue. The Act is strong but so many people are ignorant about the procurement Act, some people like doing things in a very easy way but then, in the tertiary institutions, there was a university law and that is what they were acting on but the Act supersedes any other law when it comes to Procurement. That was why at NOUN, we organised the workshop to sensitise the principal officers of the University, the centre directors and other staffs so that every one should understand it. That’s how it is done, why are they wasting our time? Do you know that some times when money is given to some units of department, they believe that it is just for them as a person. But if the federal government gives money to any department, unit or directorate, that money purely is for the University and it has to go through the due process in order to enhance transparency and give room for competition.
As the head of procurement, what do you think are the factors militating against the success of Procurement in some tertiary institutions?
You see the issue of contractors, service providers is that some people think that if they’re registered with CAC, they are okay, no, there are some other requirements like PENCOM, VAT, National Insurance, the ITF all these. If you really want to do business with the government, you need to have these. The process is cumbersome and they want to take shortcut but the Act does not allow it and there have been so many circulars concerning that, that if you don’t acquire these things as a contractor, you can not do business with federal government and so some people will come and say my brother is a business man, of course we know he is a business man but there are rules and regulations that guide procurement. It’s not every business man that does business with federal government except if you are qualified and these are the things that make you to qualify, Tax clearance, VAT, PENCOM, ITF, three years’ audit report and also the company must not have issues with the court. So, here, with the way VC has allowed the transparency, things are better here, we are abiding by the rule as much as possible. Of course, initially there were challenges of ignorance but now because of this awareness every body is living up to expectation now in this university.
Since taking over as the head of procurement of NOUN, in what ways have you been able to impact on the procurement processes of the University?
That’s why I organised the workshop. That’s the best way to impact the principle on the management. I did that in order to sensitise the management.
During your recent workshop on public procurement, you talked about the new system of procurement. What did you mean by that?
We are only trying to separate the procurement. You see, since the Act was prohibited in 2007 and the procurement that took place before 2007, the processes are different. Before, there was no competition, the chief executive could just look at somebody and ask him to go and supply that, you go buy this, you go construct this but now it is not done like that, you must be qualified to do it. I can’t imagine somebody who is selling in the market to come and do construction work. You see, procurement itself is project management and what makes the difference is the Act. The Act now strengthens the process.
What would you say are the general benefits of having a good procurement process in place?
The benefits, like I told you before are many. First, there is room for competition, contract is no longer awarded to somebody who doesn’t know about the contract. Also, there will be no corruption, you don’t just give money like that, you give money in accordance with the project at hand. There are so many other advantages, competence and value for money.
What are the challenges confronting you in carrying out your duties as the head of procurement of NOUN?
There are no challenges whatsoever. You know, I have dealt with serious procurement processes in other bigger ministries like Defense, State House so here the job is not much. We don’t have as much as the bug ministries have so the challenge is not very much here and I’m happy the boys that are working with me are picking up fast, I just sent three of them to Lagos for a course on procurement.
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