Columnists

Time to rethink technicalities in public tenders

tender

The discovery that a tender submitted to a government entity was the lowest priced often leads to celebrations from the submitting party.

In reality, however, disappointment sets in upon notification that one’s bid failed way early into the evaluation process on minor conformity issues, which lead to the bid’s unconditional elimination.

Our procurement system, by law, is undertaken in three stages. The first one is preliminary evaluation.

The second stage is technical evaluation. Here, the conformity of bids is checked against the technical requirements of the tender.

In my view, this is the most critical stage as it determines the person who will offer the best solution to the purchasing agency — more so for a nation, which has long struggled with cost-inflated but substandard works and services.

The creation of room for the intensive scrutiny of technical proposals could ensure that bidders who best understand the tender’s technical requirements and have the sound skillset required for the delivery of the project win the floated tenders.

The final stage is financial evaluation, which involves the appraisal and ranking of the financial proposals. Under the widely used open tender method, the lowest priced bid at this stage carries the day.

What ails preliminary evaluation as presently applied? Broadly stated, it tends to elevate form over substance- and I will explain.

First, the system capitalises on and punishes any form of human error. Any mistake in documentation presentation leads to automatic disqualification. This is regardless of any knowledge within the reach of evaluators or any available practicalities to rectify such errors.

For instance, where a service provider is already servicing a contract with an agency, and in a subsequent bid he erroneously leaves out one document, the bid will still be eliminated even though the procuring entity is in its possession.

Second, the system ignores the opportunity for clarification of the correct positions despite the same being provided for under the Public Procurement and Asset Disposal Act.

Third, there are opportunity and financial cost losses by the public. These losses occur when entities eliminate bidders on the above technicalities. The technical and financial value of such bids is therefore altogether lost.

Fourth, there is the perpetuation of corruption and related malpractices. In corrupt environments, some evaluators toothcomb bids to pick out any minor issues to eliminate less favoured bids.

In terms of malpractices, plucking of pages, illegal insertion of documents during evaluation and doctoring of information occurs due to the significance accorded to preliminary evaluation.

The fifth reason is unwarranted litigation. The Public Procurement Administrative Review Board and the High Court and Court of Appeal expend valuable court time interpreting preliminary evaluation issues. The litigation time would be better spent on the analysis of technical and financial issues.

The Constitution calls for a fair, equitable, transparent and cost-effective procurement system. Preliminary evaluation, for the above reasons, tends to defeat these constitutional thresholds.