In developing countries, one of the major obstacles to public procurement systems is political interference.
On Tuesday July 3, President Peter Mutharika addressed a political gathering in Thyolo where he warned political leaders and top government officials against taking advantage of their positions to demand contracts in public institutions.
He urged them against interfering with public procurement systems as some supposedly feel their closeness to the governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) gives them the right to gain State-funded contracts while qualified bidders are frozen out.
This is a great step towards upholding integrity in public procurement. Mutharika has demonstrated commitment in ensuring that political interference in public procurement systems is eliminated.
This interference has the capacity to interrupt the procurement processes and deter transparency. It is a despicable demeanour which together we must aim to eradicate.
Malawians with the propensity of interfering with public procurement for their private gains or whatsoever should stop.
It is the dream of every Malawian to see a public procurement system which is free from all forms of interference, a procurement system where contractors get deals on merit, not political ties.
It is an open secret that our country is suffering from costly irregularities in procurement of goods and services due to interference.
This constitutes a major loophole through which public resources are plundered in public institutions.
It is imperative for politicians and top government officials to know that politicising government deals goes against Section 57 (1) (e) of the Public Procurement and Disposal of Asset of 2017 states: “Public officials should not interfere with or exert undue influence on any person to effect a procurement or disposal activity or decision.”
The threat of being suspended or fired from lucrative jobs has in many cases intimidated public procurement officials into obeying illegitimate political directives
However, the accurate social costs of political interference in public procurement systems cannot be measured by the amount of bribes paid or even the amount of wealth accumulated by the corrupt individuals.
Rather, the real cost is that interference threatens sustainable economic development, ethical values and justice.
It delays infrastructure development and endangers the rule of law.
There is need for every citizen to work against any form of interference in public procurement.
As the saying goes, you cannot make an omelette without breaking some eggs.
For Malawi to win the fight against political interference in any form, there are few things which need to be done diligently.
We can borrow a leaf from Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) principles for Integrity in Public Procurement on the best way to handle political interference.
- Government should demonstrate commitment by ensuring that those found interfering with public procurement processes should be exposed and face the law.
- Government should continue investing in public procurement and provide enough incentives to attract qualified public procurement officials to act in a way that deters fear or favouritism.
- Public institutions should recognise public procurement function as a strategic profession (rather than a simple administrative function) that plays a central role in preventing mismanagement, waste and potential corruption.
- Government should provide institutional or procedural framework that help to protect officials in public procurement against undue influence from politicians or higher level officials. For instance, provide guarantees to ensure that a public officials can appeal against a decision of dismissal, transfer, demotion or termination.