Calabar — A key member of the Governor Liyel Imoke's administration, Dr Tom Ogar, Special Adviser on Due Process and Public Procurement spoke to Sunday Trust in Calabar on discipline to save millions of naira in government purchases of naira. He affirms his department will not assist local contractors with international contracts. Excerpts:
We learnt you are entrenching public procurement best practices in key ministries, LGs and agencies in the state. How far have gone with that?
Due Process practice in the Cross River State has now been well entrenched not just in the major MDAs but every MDA in the state. Whether one likes it or not, if the Accountant General's office has not seen the No Objection Certificate from our office, state funds are never released.
This is to illustrate the extent to which our office has entrenched the due process practices. Before money is spent in the state, there must be the yearly appropriation. Once a given item required is in the budget, it would be expected that the department develop what is called 'development plan'.
This gives us idea of what each MDA plans to procure as far as procurements for that year are concerned. The MDAs themselves will also draw up their own procurement plans. This will show the nitty-gritties of what each of them intends to procure during the year. Once that is done and we are fully aware of what your procurement budget is, we encourage you to go ahead.
The collaboration is important because sometimes some MDAs might have expended their budgets and go ahead to apply for more funds, believing that we will not know. It is only that office that can give us that information, backing it up with what we call Budget Clearance Certification.
Through this, we have been able to save a lot of money for government. Some MDAs knowingly or unknowingly inflate prices. Therefore, with the Price Intelligence Unit we are able to advise and guide the governor appropriately about the current prices before he gives approval to any procurement.
So you have instilled some level of discipline in procurement system in this state?
Really, there is now discipline in the application of government funds. In fact, there was a report in the Guardian that the Due Process in Cross River State is one of the best administered in the country. As a result of this, a lot of international donors are getting interested in the state. This is essentially so because of this office.
The World Bank, EU, DFID etc can only come to you when they are certain you are running a transparent financial system. You know that these people do not want to throw their money into the drain. They constantly interface with us, especially the World Bank which donates equipment, generators and other supports. Before the procurement law came out, they kept calling to find out when it was going to be enacted.
Has your department ever assisted local contractors to benefit from World Bank projects in this state?
No, my department will not assist any local contractors to get any World Bank jobs. The World Bank has its own mechanism. That is why at a point in time there was this agitation that we should work out mechanism to favour local vendors...that we should water down the criteria in favour of local contractors so that they can win such lucrative contracts.
The governor said no. He reasons that contractors are supposed to be professionals. If the criteria are watered down, if for instance there are jobs in Abuja, Lagos etc and such contractors are interested, they won't be able to submit tenders for such jobs. The World Bank has a much regimented kind of procedure.
But there this notion that Due Process slows down budget implementation.
If we have to go through all the processes as lawfully authorized, I have not seen where Due Process Department slows down budget implementation. Those who are having this notion are the ones who want to cut corners. I cannot imagine how a budget that is supposed to be run for 10 months but MDA would wait till the last hour to present its procurements proposal.
MDAs are supposed to submit their procurements agenda early enough. This is why we insist on procurement planning. With the plan it gives you chance to work. But many won't do this because they want to cut corners. We only recognize emergency procurement where there are natural calamities, windstorm etc.
The slow-down is from the MDAs. Some MDAs have refused to use the procurement officers we trained for such purposes. Commissioners and heads of MDAs these days want to stay in their offices to do procurements. This is wrong. The chief executives of MDAs are not supposed to be part of procurements if you look at what we call the resident Due Process team. The accounting officers of the MDAs are the permanent secretaries who should be saddled with the responsibility of procurements.
What about cases of substandard and abandoned projects?
I can beat my chest to affirm that since my appointment, there have not been any abandoned projects. So on issues of fraud and corruption, you have them everywhere. But abroad, it has been reduced to the barest minimum because they have checks and balances in place and once you are caught you are punished immediately.
In Cross River State, there is a law passed by the state House of Assembly and assented to by the governor late last year. We now have instrument in place. The drawback was that there were no punitive measures for those caught committing fraud. Now we are empowered. I can now tell contractors that think of abandoning jobs that it is no longer business as usual.
As you know, there is Project Monitoring office that sees that before a contractor receives payment after the mobilization fee, its team of experts inspects such jobs and get them satisfied before cheques are released. The mandate of my office does not however get to that.
So far, how much government funds has your office been able to save?
We have been able to save money through the Due Process reforms. We have stopped practices where certain items were charged VAT and then the proceeds did not get into government coffers. For contingency, in this state we only accept 2.5percent instead of 5percent previously.
Procurement is a very problematic area where 80- 90percent of corrupt practices takes place because there are many loopholes. It takes only a trained person with integrity to discover and plug such loopholes. Often, you will find some persons coming to you to collude with you to inflate the contingency fees, for instance, asking you to close your eyes so that you would share the extra.
I am certain that we have saved substantial amount for government through reduction of inflation in contract sums. This department has saved about N155million since I was appointed. The department was also about to realize about N244million during the period from registration of contractors and renewals.
Due process office, the smallest of all the government offices, got the highest revenue last year. If we had got into all these sharp practices, we would not have realized that.
In all of this, what level of support do you enjoy from your boss? And in the event he has interest, what happens?
I have enjoyed tremendous political goodwill from the governor. This has substantially enabled me to succeed this far. Sometimes when these MDAs bypassed me to the governor, he would redirect them to this office. I can show you files where he has repeatedly referred them back to us, saying they must necessarily pass through the procurement office.
If the governor had no interest to support, this department would have been off by now. Several times I have been reported to him that I make things difficult. I had a good job at the university where I taught for almost 15 years before coming here. There is no point coming to stay here compromising the rules and destroying my name because of political appointment.
Did you study Procurement at the university?
One funny thing is that I did not read Procurement in the university. In fact, when the governor swore me in and gave me the procurement portfolio, I was scared because I did not know a thing about it. That was even the reason upon my swearing-in I dodged the pressmen because if anyone of them had asked me a question about procurement what would I have answered!
What I did was to begin to read anything about procurement voraciously. I approached the governor, told him my plight and the need to attend courses. Surprisingly, he readily approved for me to go for training and other courses on capacity building even abroad. My cabinet colleagues would ask how I managed to get such approvals whereas they had not gone to, say, Badagry in Lagos. Perhaps the governor understood the vast need for all that.
Now that I am preparing to go back to the university, I do not know what I would go to teach. Maybe Procurement, who knows?
Copyright © 2012 Daily Trust. All rights reserved. Distributed by AllAfrica Global Media (allAfrica.com). To contact the copyright holder directly for corrections — or for permission to republish or make other authorized use of this material, click here.
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