The rate of participation of women entrepreneurs in government purchase is disturbingly low, thus obstructing inclusive growth and women empowerment, experts said.
The government procures about Tk 3.0 trillion worth goods, service and works annually including foreign grants and loans, they added.
The experts said there are 46,704 registered bidders for e-GP at the Central Procurement Technical Unit (CPTU) as of July 2018.
But the number of women entrepreneurs is not known as the gender-disaggregated data is not available, they mentioned.
According to unofficial data, there are only 30 registered women bidders for e-GP.
Lack of IT knowledge, awareness, proper documentation and information also act as barriers for women entrepreneurs to participate in the e-GP tenders.
The experts made the observations at a dialogue on 'Public Procurement Policy and Gender Perspective'.
The Business Initiative Leading Development (BUILD) organised the event at a city hotel in cooperation with IFC-WBG and BWIT.
The dialogue was aimed at discussing ways to include gender aspect in the relevant laws so that women can actively participate in the procurement process.
Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) Mohammad Muslim Chowdhury attended the event as the chief guest and CPTU Director General (DG) Faruque Hossain as the special guest.
BUILD chief executive officer (CEO) Ferdaus Ara Begum made a presentation on behalf of Janata Bank chairman Luna Shamsoddoha.
BUILD gender consultant Mehrun Chowdhury presented a paper on public procurement and the status of women entrepreneurs.
The BUILD CEO said the government spends over Tk 1.0 trillion annually to purchase goods and services.
But there is no provision to invoke women's participation in the procurement process, she added.
Ms Ara said there are 49,176 registered bidders of which only 30 are women.
It is not known how women contribute to the 8.0 per cent economic growth of the country, she added.
Meanwhile, Ms Chowdhury said 70-80 per cent of the total procurement is done by different ministries and departments.
The number of total registered government procurement agencies is 1,256 out of the 1,325 while the total procuring entities are 6,474 (including agencies, departments and individual entities), she added.
The expenditure for public procurement and the number of tenders are increasing every year, according to the BUILD consultant.
Citing IMED (implementation monitoring and evaluation division) and Bangladesh Economic Review data 2017, she said Tk 309.22 billion was spent for procuring goods, service and works in 2011-12.
It was Tk 714.38 billion in 2016-17, Ms Chowdhury cited. Although 94 per cent of the government agencies procure through e-GP, the overall value outside the e-GP process is higher, she said.
Of the total 7.8 million enterprises, Ms Chowdhury said, women own only 7.0 per cent or 0.56 million entities.
Meanwhile, the CPTU DG said many ministries and organisations are reluctant to use e-GP.
The CPTU has opened Tk 1.0 billion tender under e-GP. But the portion of the cabinet committee on purchase will be manual, he added.
Mr Hossain laid emphasis on receiving CPTU training after getting registered as a bidder.
It will help one to be better prepared by knowing all the laws, rules and regulations to participate in the public procurement process, he said.
Mr Hossain suggested certification of female bidders by a third party or an independent body for their participation in the bidding process.
About bribery issue, he said when a woman contractor is awarded a job, the procuring entity creates a barrier and there starts the bribery stage.
"Corruption has shifted from processing to implementation part," he added.
The dialogue was told that 8,000 procuring entities have invited over 0.28 million tenders through e-GP.
But the percentage of the total procurement is not known.
There are 9,000 banks registered with the CPTU of which 45 have e-GP desks.
The CAG at the event said the CPTU will be converted to an authority under a law having more legal force, with special emphasis on women entrepreneurs.
In this thread, he said, the CPTU web portal can have some women-related activities as a starting point.
Through e-GP platform, the CAG said, the situation is becoming congenial for women entrepreneurs to participate in the tender process.
Out of the total public procurement, the major portion is works contract.
Works contract is the area where women's penetration requires time as the implementation process needs lots of engagement which women cannot handle.
The CAG said external governance is also a big issue.
"I'm seeing the service, consultancy, goods and intellectual professional service are good options," he observed.
Former Dhaka Chamber of Commerce and Industry president Asif Ibrahim said the public procurement policy should be made friendly for women entrepreneurs.
Women face severe procedural difficulties in participating in the procurement system, he added.
E-GP has been introduced, but there are barriers like experience and financial strength for bidding in the donor-funded projects which should be relaxed for women, Mr Asif mentioned.
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