The Competition Authority’s Director of Legal and Enforcement, Duncan Morotsi, has told the Fourth National Competition Conference held at the Gaborone International Convention Centre last Thursday that the nature of Botswana’s public procurement is that it treats those who tender for government jobs unequally.
Most of the goods sold in Botswana are imported and in some instances, local traders make otherwise perfectly legal agreements with their foreign suppliers.
“The Competition Authority can’t dictate the sort of agreements that suppliers reach with local franchises, distributorships and agencies. However, those agreements put other traders at a disadvantage when it comes to public procurement. In Botswana, public procurement makes some rich and impoverishes others,” Morotsi said.
Some of those in the latter category have gone to the Competition Authority to complain. Giving an illustrative example, Morotsi said that when the government floats a lucrative tender, a Motswana may go to South Africa to seek price quotes with a view to making a competitive bid. However, the South African supplier would tell him to “go to this man in Kanye and he will give you a price.” At the end of the day, Morotsi said, the hapless person ends up not putting in a bid because of the exclusive agreement between the South African supplier and the local trader in Kanye.
By standard practice, those most likely to get government jobs through public procurement are those who quote the lowest price. Morotsi said such a system places price above quality of service and may jeopardise successful completion of a job tendered for. In elaborating on the latter point, he gave an example of a supplier who quotes a very low price in order to win a tender but is then unable to meet basic costs to get the job done.
His analysis is that “lowest price” is itself something that one cannot put a finger on because it can be any amount. The lowest bid for a job that should cost P2 million can be P3.5 million and often this happens because of collusion between suppliers. In the latter instance, a group of suppliers connive to rig the bid with everybody else but the designated winner quoting ridiculously high prices to enable the latter (who would quote the lowest but still exorbitant price) to get the upper hand.
While public procurement rules allow direct appointment, Morotsi said some such direct appointments are suspect. Another group of complainants who have approached the Authority questioned why particular companies are directly appointed all the time at the exclusion of other players.
“We can’t direct government where to buy, and direct appointment is done internationally, often for security and health reasons. However, you can’t buy from one person all the time,” he said.
Another procurement practice that Morotsi expressed concern about is that of tender documents that are crafted in such manner that particular companies will win them. In order to level the playing field ÔÇô which the Authority exists to do, Morotsi recommended that the public procurement system should be meritocratised to give all citizens a fair chance of winning.
“Some people have been tendering for the past 25 years and still have nothing to show for it,” he said.