THE finding of Transparency International Bangladesh that the introduction of electronic government procurement, or e-GP, has hardly checked corruption in public procurement is gravely worrying. The World Bank has helped Bangladesh since 2002 to improve its public procurement system and it supported the introduction of the e-government procurement in 2011 in four important procurement entities — the Local Government Engineering Department, the Roads and Highways Department, the Water Development Board and the Rural Electrification Board. The efforts are also meant to digitise public services by 2021. Electronic government procurement has gradually spanned other procuring entities. But the study, which Transparency International Bangladesh based on the four biggest procuring entities, the ones initially covered, shows that the plan has fallen through because of ‘political influence as well as collusion and syndication.’ The agency says that a major portion of the budget, in the ranges of 8.5–27 per cent, is lost to corruption in procurement and about 35 per cent of the annual development budget is now effected through electronic government procurement.
In view of all this, the failure caused largely by political influence, collusive corruption and syndication to ensure transparency in public procurement is worrying. Transparency International Bangladesh — which has conducted the study based on five criteria of institutional capacity, e-GP process, e-contract management, transparency and accountability, and effectiveness — finds the four agencies to have scored zero in management and effectiveness criteria; the agencies have scored in the ranges of 19–30 per cent, said to be much low, in transparency and accountability criteria; the agencies have, however, scored in the ranges of 60–75 per cent in institutional capacity. Overall, the Roads and Highways Department scored 50 per cent, the Rural Electrification Board 44 per cent, the Water Development Board 43 per cent and the Local Government Engineering Department 43 against the Transparency International Bangladesh benchmark of 90 per cent. Experts have blamed political inertia for the ineffectiveness of the electronic government procurement. The system, which is meant to bring about an improvement in transparency in public procurement and, thus, reduce corruption, has failed to produce the expected results because of the absence of the political will, which the ruling party has failed to show in attending to problems of collusion and syndication. The study has come up with a few recommendations that the government should now follow to improve procurement spending not only in the four procuring entities at hand but also in other procuring entities.
The first of the recommendations is that the electronic government procurement system must be whisked out of the vicious circle of political influence, collusion and syndication. The government must also, keeping to the recommendations, make the annual procurement plans of all procuring entities at the beginning of the financial year for a better oversight. The Central Procurement and Technical Unit must have an integrated, automated tender evaluation system for all procuring entities to use. Information on income and assets of procuring entity officials and their family must be disclosed and the procuring entities must be monitored by people at the community level. The government must do all this to reap the expected benefits not only out of electronic government procurement but also public procurement of any sort.
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