As the size of the national budget has increased significantly, it has been a challenging task for the ministries and divisions to ensure proper and effective utilisation of public funds. In that context, public procurement remains the single most important issue affecting the public sector performance.
Currently, the government of Bangladesh has been implementing a huge budget, worth of more than Tk 5.0 trillion with over Tk 2.0 trillion allocation for Annual Development Programme (ADP). Of the total development outlay, over 70 per cent is earmarked for procurement for implementing various ADP projects.
The government has operationalised the Public Procurement Act-2006 and the Public Procurement Rules (PPR-2008), for better and effective public procurement. In view of necessity to enhance capacity of implementing agencies and tenderers, a component titled Social Awareness Campaign and Communication (SACC) was incorporated into the Public Procurement Reform Project (PPRP) II between 2009 and September 2011 for bringing positive changes in the mindsets of all concerned. The phase one of the PPRP was implemented in 2002-2007.
A key objective of the communication efforts was to popularise PPR and electronic Government Procurement (e-GP) and promote transparency, accountability and fair competition in public procurement process by engaging policymakers, procuring entities, bidders, bankers, the civil society, the media and citizens.
Accordingly, the Central Procurement Technical Unit (CPTU) assigned Bangladesh Centre for Communication Programmes (BCCP) to execute Strategic Communications Programme on Procurement Reforms. The interventions that were made to popularise PPR include television (TV) and radio commercials, music video, press ads, cartoons, billboards, SMS, emails and online marketing. The BCCP held national level launching, e-GP workshop, TV talk shows, highlighting success stories, advocacy kit, media mobilization etc. The activities also include capacity strengthening and knowledge management in the form of training on social awareness and citizen engagement, promoting Government and Bidders' Forum, creating a digital archive and ensuring procurement mobile application.
Following such interventions, almost all (99.2 per cent) of the stakeholders became aware about strategic behavioural change communication (SBCC) activities, while 66.0 per cent gained knowledge about citizen engagement and 77 per cent expressed satisfaction at public procurement practices.
Thus, more than 50 per cent of the stakeholders developed positive perception of transparency, effectiveness, and accountability of the new PP procedures, 69.7 per cent stakeholders mentioned that PPR has ensured that the public fund has been used in the most efficient ways, while 88 per cent said PPR brought accountability. Also, bidders' participation in e-tenders increased to 361,892 e-tenders as of February 2020 compared 126,489 e-tenders in October 2017.
The government has taken another 5-year project for 2017-2022 with emphasis on citizens' engagement and behaviour change communications to increase social accountability.
GOVERNMENT AND CONTRACTORS FORUMS (GCF): In order to foster better dialogue and understanding between stakeholders, a forum titled Government and Contractors Forum (GCF) was formed in each of the 64 districts comprising members from contractor and procuring entities. This exchange of dialogue helped enhance trust among them by way of reducing misunderstanding and misperceptions.
The CPTU conducted piloting of the GCF, through BCCP, in Narayanganj, Rangpur, Barishal, Sylhet, Chattogram, Bogura and Khulna between June 2010 and June 2012. The Forum was scaled up in the districts from July 2015 to March 2017.
A total of 3,391 participants including 1633 procuring entities, 1489 contractors, 196 media representatives and 73 from banks attended meetings of 64 GCFs. Representative from banks and the media were invited to the meetings as observers. BCCP followed up GCF meetings in 30 districts between January and June 2017, during the extension period of the project. A total of 881 participants attended 30 meetings. Among them, 287 were procuring entities from different agencies, 460 contractors, and 34 journalists.
OUTCOMES OF COMMUNICATIONS: To assess feedback on effectiveness of communication in public procurement, two surveys were conducted that provided important information to understand the procurement situation and pertinent issues.
Broadly, concerned parties have been aware of PPR and there has been a clear increase in the level of knowledge among stakeholders. Around three-fourths of the financial institutions and 95 per cent of the civil society members were found to have knowledge of Public Procurement Reform.
About two-thirds of the stakeholders strongly agreed that PPR has brought transparency in public procurement. Around 90 per cent of procurement entities, 67 per cent of financial institutions and 63 per cent of tenderers said so.
More than half or 56 per cent of the stakeholders were in strong agreement that PPR has established equal opportunity for all. Similarly, half of the stakeholders responded positively to the query if 'PPR has ensured that public fund is used in the most optimum way'. Majority of the stakeholders (51 per cent) strongly agreed that PPR has lessened bureaucratic complexities. Three-fourths of the stakeholders (75 per cent) strongly acknowledged that PPR has ensured tender submission taking less time. However, only around one-fourth of the stakeholders were of positive views about payment of bills within 28 days of completion of assignment. Three-fifths of the stakeholders were in strong agreement that PPR has brought accountability in procurement. Positive response came from more than half the stakeholders as to whether PPR has ensured rights of tenderers.
However, a strong disagreement was found about the statement that 'in reality PPR does not work'. Around half of them viewed that 'PPR is too complicated to understand and follow'.
KNOWLEDGE AND PERCEPTION OF E-GP: Almost all the stakeholders (99.3 per cent) responded positively when they were asked if they heard about e-GP.
In the second tracking survey, half of the stakeholders (50 per cent) were in strong agreement that through e-GP, optimum use of money has been ensured. It was a bit higher (65 per cent) in the first tracking survey. Furthermore, around three-fourths of the stakeholders in the second tracking survey (76 per cent) agreed that 'e-GP saves transportation cost'.
Two-thirds of the stakeholders (66 per cent) strongly agreed that tendering process has become transparent in e-GP system. However, the rate was (86 per cent) in the first tracking survey. Furthermore, 58 per cent of the stakeholders in the second tracking survey showed positive attitude towards the query whether 'less possibility of corruption prevails in the country', which was higher among those in the first tracking survey (71 per cent). Moreover, more than half in the second tracking survey (56 per cent) were of strong opinion that e-GP system prevents syndication/collusion among the tenderers.
ACCESSIBILITY OF AND BARRIERS TO E-GP: According to the findings, about three-fourths (72 per cent) of the stakeholders strongly agreed that tender submission, evaluation and notification of aware have become easier in e-GP system as against 82 per cent of the stakeholders from the first tracking survey. Dwelling on easy availability of tender schedule, 69 per cent of the stakeholders in the second tracking survey had strong positive opinion. This was much higher among those in the first tracking survey at (81 per cent).
More than three-fourths of the stakeholders (76 per cent) in the second tracking survey strongly agreed that due to e-GP, processing of tendering time has decreased, which was found to be lower (72 per cent) in the first tracking survey. Furthermore, 56 per cent stakeholders in the second tracking survey strongly agreed that bureaucratic complexities have lessened in e-GP system.
More than half of the stakeholders (55 per cent) in the second tracking survey compared to 69 per cent in the first tracking survey were in strong agreement that due to e-GP, accountability has been established. In response to the query that 'through e-GP, equal opportunities have been established for everyone' more than half of the stakeholders (55 per cent) in the second tracking survey showed positive attitude.
Overall, about half of the stakeholders (47 per cent) strongly agreed that the tender system had become complicated. Furthermore, more than one-third of the stakeholders (35 per cent) strongly agreed that internet facility is not widely available and server is slow.
Most of the stakeholders (89 per cent) reported that they had used e-GP. According to majority of the tenderers (61 per cent), there is no other option but to use e-GP. Sixty per cent said the reason for using e-GP is that tenders can be submitted online.
QUALITY OF PERFORMANCES: Around half of the stakeholders (50 per cent) rated quality of performance as highly effective considering the duration, transparency, accountability, proper use of materials and so on. Similar was the case during the first tracking survey.
Less than half of the stakeholders were of the opinion that the procurement process is highly effective in terms of following PPR, participation, evaluation process, timely payment of wages/bills etc.
About 56 per cent of the stakeholders rated the trust as high as they were asked about trust in PPR with regard to community and government satisfaction. For tenderers and stakeholders from procuring entities, the more commonly mentioned reasons for using e-GP included easy process, only tender submission, no other option, less corruption and less processing time. On the other hand, more commonly stated reasons for not using e-GP included comfort with hard copy tendering, not having adequate idea and lack of training on e-GP.
High level of satisfaction was found in the end-line survey among stakeholders (77 per cent) about public procurement practices. Furthermore, most of the stakeholders (87 per cent) in the end-line survey were satisfied with e-GP.
CITIZENS' ENGAGEMENT: Overall two-thirds of the stakeholders came to know about citizen monitoring or engagement in public procurement. More than two-thirds rated (69 per cent) quality as highly effective, considering the duration, transparency, accountability, proper use of materials, etc.
Furthermore, around two-thirds were of views that the procurement process is highly effective in terms of following public procurement, participation, evaluation process, timely payment of wages/bills and so on.
Shafiul Alam is a journalist and communications consultant.
Khadija Bilkis is a development activist and senior Deputy Director at Bangladesh Center for communication Program (BCCP).
Golam Shahnee is a journalist.
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