THE Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR) earlier this week released its Procurement Tracker Namibia (PTN) in which it lamented government on its lack of transparency in public tenders.
In its October edition of the tracker, the research institute argues that corruption thrives on secrecy and there is a challenge across countries to ensure an adequate level of transparency in the entire public procurement cycle, no matter what the stage of the process, or the procurement method used.
Presenting the results of the tracker, IPPR research associate, Federico Links stated that to date, 29 ministries and offices have announced 245 proposed procurement initiatives for the 2018/19 financial year. Out of these, the Ministry of Health and Social Services accounts for two-thirds of procurement announcements.
Links, however, stated that most ministries and offices have only basic information on their websites, while 11 ministries and offices have no procurement information in public. Links further said that ministerial and departmental websites are supposed to be the first port of call for anyone looking for information concerning government procurement activity in a certain sector.
“Government departments are generally not doing much to make procurement information available on their websites. Such information should ideally include all procurement information of the ministry or agency. However, for most of the ministries and offices looked at, most do not have basic information about their procurement activities on their websites,” Links stated.
The researcher further stated that the use of procurement exemptions has already become a serious threat to the stability and integrity of the new public procurement system, which is not even two years old at this stage.
Referencing the case where the Namibia Airports Company’s request to upgrade the Hosea Kutako International Airport at almost N$100 million was exempted, as emergency procurement was granted by Finance Minister Calle Schlettwein, from a transparency perspective, Links states that what was notable about the letter was that it was marked ‘confidential’.
“After the letter became public and was widely spread, the Procurement Policy Unit (PPU), in the finance ministry, issued a vague threat on its own social media profiles, stating: “It has come to the attention of the PPU that the exemption recently issued to the Namibia Airports Company has been doing the rounds on various social media platforms. Kindly be informed that the letter is marked confidential and any person caught circulating it will be held liable as per the confidentiality provisions under the Public Procurement Act, 2015,” Links said.
He added that this clearly suggests that government officials were attempting to keep this procurement initiative secret, which does not bode well for fostering transparency in the public procurement system.
The PPU does not explain why secrecy or confidentiality in this particular case is required. The episode underscores some of the transparency concerns around using exemptions.