Thursday, February 9, 2023

Taking power from PPADB and giving it to Permanent Secretaries was a big mistake

Public procurement is a complex matter.

It is about fairness. But also about getting value for money.

The process should be handled by people who have time but also skill and expertise on the matter.

Yet Botswana government seems to have chosen to go the opposite direction.

About 20 years ago, Botswana Government created PPADB (Public procurement and Asset Disposal Board) through an Act of parliament.

PPADB was meant to handle all matters of procurement on behalf of government.

Now PPADB has been shorn of all the power.

And that power has been given to permanent secretaries.

These are people who have no security of tenure.

These are people whose continued service is at the mercy of more powerful interests inside government.

As we speak the turnover of  permanent secretaries has been excessively high over the recent past.

Many of them live in fear of being sacked or being transferred.

Many of the permanent secretaries that are no longer needed or those that have lost favour are shunted to the National Strategy office. There are at 15 least former permanent secretaries in government who have been removed from their jobs and they do not really know what they are doing today.

That is how insecure the job of a permanent secretary is today.

So it is easy to tell a permanent secretary what to do in terms of a tender or big government contract.

In fact it happened recently and a permanent secretary resigned.

It is not clear just why Botswana Government felt the need to change from a system that worked and saved a lot of public money.

There is a lot of underlying hypocrisy in the changing of the systems.

It smacks of bad faith.

The only thing with regards to PPADB Act that needed changing was so as to curb the enormous delays occasioned by litigation of the losing parties.

PPADB was not a regulator.

But it did exceptionally well in maintaining some semblance of honesty and fairness.

PPADB is not perfect. But it was independent and jealously guarded that independence.

Perhaps most crucially, PPADB had demonstrable power and was often ready to use it, including against those with power inside government.

PPADB was fair and often upright. PPADB was always willing to explain the basis of whatever decision it took.

Admittedly, it had many faults, but it was a serious gatekeeper against excessive and overbearing commercial and political interests that are now clearly running the show.

PPADB was a true guardian of public interests. Of course there would always be a few rotten apples, but as to what happened, which has been to throw a baby with dirty water is nothing short of a heist.

Government should refrain from destroying institutions that serve the public well especially when they have no wherewithal to replace them with more formidable one.

Doping away with PPADB and giving its power to permanent secretaries is like going full circle to where public procurement was before PPADB was created.

There used to be what was called the Central Tender Board.

This was administered directly from the Ministry of Finance.

It had many problems that were resolved when PPADB was created.

There is no doubt that the recent changes have already caused destabilization.

Already there is practical evidence on the ground of the pitfalls of taking power from PPADB and giving it to permanent secretaries.

Instead of relying on systems, we are resorting to the old ways of relying on good faith rather than on systems.

We are giving too much power to the princes. And as we know they always disappoint.

That is also untenable given the levels of corruption in Botswana today.

The recent resignation of a permanent secretary at the Ministry of Lands more than demonstrated the pitfalls of giving Permanent Secretaries the power to award tenders.

Not only does that lead to empire building, it leads to brazen corruption including in cahoots with those that point permanent secretaries or those that have the power to transfer them.

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