2 June 2012

Uganda: Success of New PPDA Law Will Depend On Collective Effort

The desire to make public tendering more efficient is what forced the Public Procurement and Disposal of Assets Authority (PPDA) to spearhead the amendment of the PPDA Act of 2003.

The public had for long complained about delays in the tendering process and loopholes in the law, which they said entrenched corruption in public procurement.

Although PPDA promotes transparency, corruption in the sector is still rampant. Procuring and disposing entities (PDEs) and service providers all blame the old law for their inefficiency.

Though assented to by President Yoweri Museveni last year, the new law has not come into force as a policy to operationalise it is not yet in place.

However, one could ask whether the new law is the magic bullet that will end all the tender vices like graft and reduce delays in the procurement process.

Jasper Tumuhimbise, a consultant with Lantern Consult International, argues that the PPDA Act of 2003 was efficient, but was not properly implemented.

"I do not understand why we had to review that law when not even half of it was properly enforced. With proper implementation, the old law would have solved the problems being faced today," he says.

Tumuhimbise notes that to achieve efficiency in public procurement, the sector watchdog must be empowered to deal with any vices in the industry and plug all the loopholes.

"There is need to revamp the authority and recruit new personnel to enforce the PPDA law without fear or favour for it to be effective," argues Tumuhimbise.

Levi Kabagambe, the vice-chairperson of the Institute of Procurement Professionals of Uganda, notes the amendment was responding to the cries from the sector stakeholders.

He adds that overtime; PPDA has tried to cover the loopholes in the procurement process. Kabagambe, however, says although the amended Act may not answer all the questions posed, it will be better in operation than the PPDA Act of 2003.

"The issue of corruption in public procurement cannot be wiped out completely. It is going to take the people's initiative to curb it," he argues.

Kabagambe notes that laws may be made and reviewed annually, "but Ugandans are also getting smarter by the day. They are always thinking and mapping out ways of working around the law to keep stealing."

He points out that it is upon individuals to choose to stop graft.

He also argues that PPDA should sensitise service providers unlike before where much attention was focused on practitioners and procuring entities. He points out that if service providers are aware of their rights, the procuring units will be held more accountable, thus, become efficient.

Kabagambe adds that IPPU wants to strategically place itself in the industry to help PPDA, the Government and service providers improve the sector.

Edwin Mwesigye, a medical supplies service provider, says there are cases of clients who place orders, "but with the delays of the procurement process, they later hold the orders."

"Some suppliers acquire bank loans to provide the required service, but clients delay payments because of the long tendering process, leaving the suppliers' capital stuck in clients' orders," explains Mwesigye.

He adds this may lead to collapse of businesses, which do not have alternative sources of income.

He notes that the new Act might also not offer much because like before, there are always promises of better operation, "but it is always the same old story."

"To change the face of the procurement function for the better and wipe out graft, we need collective efforts of PPDA, the stakeholders and the public," he notes.

Cornelia Sabiiti, the PDDA executive director, says the amended Act is not a magic bullet to all the procurement concerns, but "a beefed-up guiding principle to help practitioners do their work better."

She explains that the PPDA Act of 2003 was amended to address issues in the law that were not functioning properly.

"The old law provided for light penalties against corruption and other vices, which saw many culprits go unscathed despite evidence against them," says Sabiiti.

She points out that the law cannot do much without ndividuals committing to ethical practice. Sabiiti notes that the success of the new law will depend on people who are dedicated to follow it and not those trying hard to beat the system. She says PPDA will only monitor the implementation of the new law and leave the rest of the work to practitioners.

"More measures to ensure transparency are being put in place such as the Appeals Tribunal, where discontented service providers can file their complaints instead of going to courts of laws. This will hasten the process and also encourage efficiency," she explains.

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