Sometime in the early part of the 2000s the then Minister of Finance, Baledzi Gaolathe launched what came known to be known as the Public Procurement and Asset Disposal Board (PPADB).
The new Board was taking over the duties of what had been known as Central Tender Board ÔÇô and more.
To this day, the late minister’s speech at the event to launch PPADB remains instructive.
In that speech Gaolathe reminded the Board that they had to take corporate governance seriously because the public perceptions will ultimately play a bigger role in determining the extent to which the new body would be deemed credible.
More importantly the minister said the days of the then Central Tender Board gone, for good.
He said the days when politicians would be dabbling in the award of tenders had been economically disastrous for efficient management of resources.
He called on the new organisation to support government developmental goals while not undermining the principle of “value for money.”
He said given the government of Botswana’s huge procurement budget, the responsibilities of PPADB would be huge, in a way commensurate with that huge budget.
Gaolathe also talked about the pitfalls ahead.
He said fairness would be key in the operations of PPADBB.
What the minister did not warn PPADB about in his speech is the extent to which politicians would many years down the line still try to manipulate the operations of PPADB, very much the same way that they ran CTB.
On account of such political meddling, almost 20 years down the line, PPADB is still fighting the demons of public perceptions which continue to weigh down on the Board’s image and public confidence.
Ordinary Batswana are skeptical that PPADB is indeed independent from public influence in the manner that is Act envisages.
Using the establishing Act as its Bible, PPADB has to its credit and under very difficult circumstances tried to maneuver all these landmines of political meddling.
But dealing with a politician who is driven more by expediency and in some cases by outright corruptive influence is never an easy thing. And it shows with PPADB.
As we speak there are some in cabinet who feel very strongly that PPADB should be held responsible for the delay in tender and contract awards in Government.
There are some in Government who are saying Government should have the option to bypass PPADB altogether. Their view is that because PPADB insists on accountability, the Board is therefore a nuisance that should be dispensed with.
The more brazen among them are saying PPADB should be abolished.
In our view this is reckless political grandstanding. Instead of reducing accountability, we should be increasing it.
We are the first to admit that PPADB has not always entirely covered itself with glory.
The Board needs to do much to teach the public but also the entrepreneurs on the operations of PPADB.
Out of ignorance we still have many people blaming PPADB for shortcomings that are essentially not of PPADB but of ministries and their departments. We fault PPADB for this.
One thing that PPADB has done extremely well is create a well trained human resource base to man its operations.
That sadly is not reflected in Government especially among people who represent Government in their interactions with PPADB.
Instead of complaining about how PPADB is delaying the process of awarding of tenders, Government should work at creating an intellectual base among its own procurers to match the specialists at PPADB.
This would go a long way in enhancing the turnaround time in the award of tenders and contracts.
Beyond that we are of the view that questions about PPADB in general and its transparency in particular are legitimate.
While a public debate is important along that discourse, it should be about strengthening PPADB, rather than abolishing it.
Like any organisation, PPADB has its weaknesses, but they are mainly a result of an establishing Act that does not go far enough to entrench the independence of PPADB and its executives away from the overweening presence of politicians and technocrats ÔÇô especially at the Ministry of Finance who still look down at PPADB as one of the ministry’s departments.
More worrying is the Act’s ability to comprehensively cover the powers of PPADB on security related procurement.
While this was not a big issue in the past, it has proved increasingly so under this government where securocrats with untouchable links to the President are running the show ÔÇô literally shouting down orders to anyone including to cabinet ministers.