Public procurement covers one-fifth of global GDP (gross domestic product). According to an estimation of International Trade Centre (ITC), women's participation is only 1.0 per cent in public procurement. Ensuring women entrepreneurs' participation in the process could help achieve inclusive growth. This would be in keeping with Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 5, which focuses on gender equality.
The size of national budget in Bangladesh has been growing from bigger to bigger every year, of which 51 per cent is ADP (annual development programme), 80 per cent of which is spent on procurement. There is a huge scope for women entrepreneurs to participate in the procurement process.
There is no gender segregated public procurement data. Therefore, extent of women participation in this regard is something hard to understand. Besides, there is a perception that the registered women bidders through e-GP do not get involved in the procurement process directly - they instead get things done by engaging their male representatives in the operations.
Public procurement system in Bangladesh is regulated by two legal instruments - the Public Procurement Act (PPA) 2006, and the Public Procurement Rules (PPR) 2008. The process involves identifying potential suppliers through opening tender or sourcing/purchasing directly.
The Central Procurement Technical Unit (CPTU) was established in 2002 and electronic procurement instrument, e-GP was introduced in 2011. A significant amount of procurement still remains outside the purview of e-GP.
There are 1324 procuring organisations/entities in the country. Of the total, 1254 are registered - all ministries and their divisions belong to this category. The remaining ones are 17 Pourasabhas, 32 Upazilas and 31 other organisations that are insignificant in terms of capacity to participate in procurement process. More than 200,000 tenders have been invited through e-GP.
With the introduction of e-GP, some problems of the tenderers (bidders) have been resolved. But due to poor access of women to technology, reduction in gender gap in terms of technology use is something yet to take place. Government spends over Tk 1.0 trillion annually to procure goods and services - inviting women's participation in the procurement process as part of ensuring transparency. There are 49,176 registered bidders. Among them, only 30 are women. It remains a challenge for women entrepreneurs to engage themselves in the public procurement process. Realising the importance of addressing the issue of women entrepreneurs, BUILD in collaboration with IFC-WBG has undertaken an initiative to hold a series of programmes for bringing this issue to the policymakers' attention.
Public procurement system in Bangladesh is divided into four parts - goods, works, intellectual and professional services, and non-intellectual services (outsourcing). IT has been included of late and divided into two categories - some ITs belong to goods category, while others fall in the category of intellectual and professional services.
The threshold for different types of procurements also differ. There are various methods of procurements like Open Tendering Method, and Limited Tendering Method. There are also Two-stage Tendering Method and Direct Procurement Method. These all methods have been transformed into an electronic system in 2011 under a single portal. Women entrepreneurs can participate in public procurement through Limited Tendering Method, RFQ Method and Direct Procurement Method provided that they are exceptionally worthy to participate in. For all these, women entrepreneurs need to build their capacities to be qualified as tenderers.
In Bangladesh, there are some women tenderers who are operating under the works category. In Ethiopia, women tenderers are certified by an independent body. They have a point system in evaluating tenderers. Some points are given for women tenderers. In Kenya, 30 per cent budget is kept for the women tenderers and only can compete for this 30 per cent.
The situation for women to participate in public procurement process has become congenial with the introduction of e-GP system. Areas of IT, intellectual and professional services, consultancy and goods could be suitable for women engagement, while official subcontracting is also important for women entrepreneurs to start with. And with this comes gaining experience for overall participation. But women need to learn the entire legal process. In big corporate houses, there is a separate department to deal with this issue. Affordability of women is yet another important aspect.
Ferdaus Ara Begum is CEO of Business Initiative Leading Development (BUILD) - a public private dialogue platform supported by DCCI, MCCI and CCCI.
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