Issues surrounding the interpretation of the Public Procurement Act in the procurement process dominated the Namibia Procurement Conference, held in Windhoek last week. The conference was attended by more than 60 procurement officers, drawn from state-owned companies and local authorities as well as suppliers who bid for government contracts.
Tenders awarded by state-owned institutions and local authorities have been the subject of many court disputes.
“The conference was successful. Everyone was engaging throughout. That is the thing with procurement; it is a non-ending debate. I believe the participants walked away with a lot of insights,” said one of the speakers at the conference, Ester Kuugongelwa, a senior official of the Procurement Policy Unit in the finance ministry.
Kuugongelwa said most discussions and questions during the conference centred around the interpretation of the Procurement Act when tenders are being prepared or the disputes that come when bids are awarded.
“There are issues about the interpretation of the law basically. In some areas, you can see there is a lack of awareness on the part of officials. We have to create awareness on these issues,” she said.
Another speaker at the conference Julia Itana, procurement manager at the Roads Authority, said some common mistakes made by companies that bid for tenders include focusing on price alone while ignoring other requirements.
Itana noted that some suppliers want to bid even in tenders where they lack specialisation. “Don’t oversell yourself,” she said and discouraged suppliers from submitting bids for which they are not eligible.
On the other hand, Kuugongelwa noted there is confusion regarding the operations of the Procurement Policy Unit, which regulates the procurement of goods, works and services as well as the Central Procurement Board of Namibia, whose duty is to conduct the bidding process on behalf of public entities.
“Most of the time, the public confuses the role of the two institutions. We really need to focus on creating awareness on how the procurement process works.”
Namibia has close to 50 state-owned enterprises that have procurement thresholds of between N$5 million to N$30 million outside of the larger procurement that has to go through the Central Procurement Board of Namibia.
Kuugongelwa said the conference provided participants practical insight on procurement because most of the time, emphasis is placed on compliance with the law but little is done to make officials under the procurement law.
The conference also revealed some of the concerns that bidders have, including that tender documents are too bulky and difficult to fill and not having an understanding of what is required of them.
“There is a need to create awareness; add value for money for both sides,” Kuugongelwa concluded.