In October 2013 Kenya launched the Access to Government Procurement Opportunities (AGPO) programme in keeping with a campaign pledge to open up State tenders to disadvantaged groups in the country.
AGPO was intended to facilitate enterprises owned by the youth, women and persons with disabilities to participate in government procurement. As a legal requirement, public offices were expected to reserve 30 percent of tenders for enterprises owned by these groups.
A decade down the line, data on public spending shows the country has had marginal success in providing a platform for equitable distribution of State procurement opportunities in Kenya. While programmes such as AGPO have provided an opportunity for women, youth and those with disabilities to set up firms and compete for contracts, there is still much to be done to ensure substantive participation by SMEs.
This is timely because in the first place, women in particular have in the past decade made significant strides in building capacity to compete with their established male counterparts across various sectors.
The cadre of women professionals in manufacturing, finance, tech and services among other sectors has increased in recent years and this is reflected by the higher portion of women in boardrooms and the C-suite of major companies.
Secondly, entrepreneurs across the country are in the midst of a difficult recovery period from the economic and social disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Kenya’s construction sector is a good case study into the opportunities that remain locked to women, young people and persons with disability despite these groups having the capacity and prior experience in executing big projects.
The country’s real estate sector has seen a significant rise in women business owners, engineers, architects and masons among other support staff within the built environment. In recent years women have proven that they can deliver high quality, capital intensive projects at both the national and county governments if given the opportunity.
Currently Kenya is pressing on with an affordable housing programme to deliver 250,000 houses per year.
Last year a survey commissioned by Women in Real Estate, (WIRE) revealed low levels of participation and representation of women in high-levels. According to the Engineers Board of Kenya, only seven percent of registered engineers are women.
The Board of Registration of Architects and Quantity Surveyors indicates that just eight percent of registered architects and 10 percent of registered quantity surveyors are women. Out of architectural and engineering firms owned by women, just three and two percent of them respectively are owned by women.
As the government sets about executing its budget, there is a need to review the chances that have been granted to women-led enterprises in the past and the shortcomings.
The National Treasury and county governors should take the lead in facilitating a more just distribution of public procurement opportunities, if only to support the small entrepreneurs still struggling to recover from significant economic shocks.
Ms Wanjiku is the CEO, Fireside Group- [email protected]