Tuesday, October 26, 2021

PPADB’s online bidding: can it work given Botswana’s low internet connectivity?

On Monday afternoon the Public Procurement and Asset Disposal Board launched a web based bidding system called Integrated Procurement Management System (IPMS).

Not only is this a noble idea, it is literally a peep into the future.

While we welcome the initiative by PPADB we also worry that PPADB is most likely many years ahead of itself.

And on this we can be sure that it will not be long before results on the ground bear us out.

Botswana has been too slow to invest in high speed internet connectivity.

This is very much a policy failure as it is a lack of political will.

Some years ago Botswana Government set aside millions that were going to be used for a project called e-Government.

Many years later with all the money finished, there is still nothing to show for it.

In fact compared to our peer countries, Botswana is now worse given the amount of e-Gov money that has fallen between the cracks. In a totally unintended way the PPADB new system is poised to expose the emptiness that has been the e-Gov project.

PPADB new system would only work in an environment where access to the internet is taken seriously. The system will require interface between PPADB as adjudicator and also government ministries and departments as Procuring Entities.

In an environment where millions of Pula have been wasted into the still nonexistent e-government project we should be worried for the efficacy of the PPADB new system.

There is ample evidence of fraud, corruption and theft surrounding expenditure of e-Gov money.

Yet nobody has been held accountable.

What is however most appalling is the fact that some people who stole that money when they were civil servants have now been promoted to become cabinet ministers.

Interestingly they now shamelessly have presidential ambitions.

But that is the story for another day.

What PPADB has done is commendable.

Potentially the new system will significantly reduce  costs of bidding for public tenders and contracts.

It is also expected to enhance efficiency and convenience for bidders.

We are however worried that given the fact that a large number of our people are still not ICT savvy, the initiative by PPADB is likely to result in exclusion of many Batswana businesses.

And that is not all.

The initiative by PPADB presupposes that internet connectivity is something that is readily available to many Batswana.

Yet the reality on the ground points to the contrary.

When it is available, the internet in Botswana is often slow, unreliable and erratic.

More often, even in cities, the internet is still not available at all.

More worrying is the fact that for many people the internet is out of reach because it is expensive.

The price of the internet in Botswana is so high that often it is not affordable for many citizens.

In short there is still a mistaken belief especially in Government that internet is a luxury.

The situation is much worse in the rural areas where there is still a public duty on behalf of policy makers to ensure business growth. Under such circumstances one struggles to understand how the noble initiative by PPADB is going to be worthwhile. 

Experience elsewhere shows that access to the internet is no longer a luxury for the wealthy and privileged.

The world over, the internet is increasingly treated as a basic human right that can be used not only to help citizens make informed decisions, but also help in the fight of such human ills like poverty, illiteracy, and communication.

When launching the IPMS, the head of PPADB, Bridget John said efforts are also ongoing to facilitate online payments.

This is a step in the right direction.

Other countries that we like to compare ourselves with are many years ahead when it comes to electronic payments.

It is appalling that Botswana Government still lags behind when it comes to receiving payments from citizens online.

The biggest problem with Botswana when it comes to development of the internet of course has to do with corruption.

But it also has to do with the fact that we still have a national leadership that is illiterate when it comes to information technology.

In short what PPADB has done is commendable. But its success is reliant on many other factors that are way out of control for PPADB.

Hence we are of the firm belief that PPADB is way ahead of the times in which it operates.

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