A Regional Alliance to Improve Public Procurement
January 22, 2014
Governments in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region share many of the same challenges in meeting public service demands. They all, for example, build roads, purchase medical supplies, and construct schools. And yet, for many years, those responsible for the systems and policies used to purchase these goods or services (referred to as public procurement) have been unable to share their knowledge, challenges and solutions in a systematic and sustainable way.
In June 2013, all this changed.
With World Bank assistance, government-nominated representatives from eight countries in the region, Morocco, Tunisia, Jordan, Lebanon, Yemen, Djibouti, Egypt, and the Palestinian Territories established the MENA Network of Public Procurement Experts. Libya has since joined the effort. The World Bank’s MENA Procurement Team has been critical to the birth and development of this initiative, under the leadership of Regional Procurement Manager Yolanda Tayler and the guidance of Director of Strategy and Operations Gerard Byam.
According to Mr. Tarek El-Salem, Senior Training Manager at the Arab Administrative Development Organization (ARADO) of the Arab League, the Network addresses an urgent, regional need. He noted that, “The network is a great chance to tackle an important, often-neglected issue that most MENA region countries suffer from - the lack of a unified practice in the field of public procurement and the urgent need for capacity building.”
While designed to give these experts a common platform for exchanging their knowledge and experiences, the Network also endorsed two priority areas for regional collaboration at its inaugural meeting, namely: the development of capacity in the procurement workforce, and the modernization of procurement tools. In the short time since then, the Network has made substantial strides towards implementing these targeted regional initiatives, and promoting transformational changes in the medium- and long-term.
In a subsequent gathering held at the end of November in Tunisia, the Network added a third priority area of collaboration by approving the creation of a new and innovative initiative dedicated to improving business opportunities for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in government contracting. All three initiatives, led by subcommittees, were also strengthened through the addition of supporting Network members from other countries that will help in the implementation efforts.
We all understand that alone we can go faster, but together we will go further.
To build capacity of public procurement stakeholders in the region, the Network endorsed an action plan proposed by the Government of Yemen and complemented by the expertise of the Arab Administrative Development Organization (ARADO) of the Arab League. The action plan addresses this common challenge in an innovative way by seeking to partner with key players in MENA (e.g., universities, training and learning institutes, professional associations) who could organize and deliver training sessions, and focusing on the professionalization of the procurement workforce by establishing common standards for those working on public procurement.
Members of the Network also recognized that government officials are not the only relevant procurement stakeholders in need of support. The private sector, a critical partner in improving service delivery outcomes and creating jobs, was highlighted as an area in need of regional attention. In particular, SMEs, which account for 40 percent of GDP and 70 percent of employment in the MENA region, face key challenges in accessing public procurement opportunities. The newly established Network subcommittee on Creating Business Opportunities for MENA’s SMEs aims to address the barriers to entry that exist in many of the region’s current procurement systems, including lack of information about rules and procedures, and about relevant upcoming government contracts.
To help facilitate the exchange of open information, the Network has endorsed a proposal from the Government of Morocco to launch a pilot of a regional e-Portal for public procurement by March 2014. It will provide an online workspace to enable sharing best practices and documents between countries. This e-Portal will promote transparency and open access to information in the region, and will also serve as a useful tool to further expose the private sector (including SMEs) and other stakeholders to relevant information on public procurement practices and opportunities. In addition, the e-Portal will lay the foundation for a regional public procurement advertising portal in the future.
To ensure that the Network remains country-led and country-owned, the representatives also endorsed the reinforcement of the Network’s Secretariat function, including the addition of supporting representatives to complement the efforts of the acting Secretariat, the Government of Lebanon. Together, they will help draft regulations to more fully define the Network governance structure and membership guidelines, and begin planning for future gatherings.
“By contributing to the development of the Network,” said Mr. Jean Ellieh, Director General of the Central Tender Board of Lebanon, “we are thus contributing to the development of the public procurement sector in the region and in the country, which will ensure more transparency and better service delivery.”
Moving forward, the Network has big plans and even bigger ideas – from establishing a universally recognized regional accreditation standard for procurement to designing a MENA Procurement Ethics Code and developing harmonized MENA Regional procurement directives.
Each of these goals would foster increased economic integration and trade within the region, and beyond. Most importantly for the citizens of the region, they would increase transparency, accountability, efficiency of public spending, and good governance in all the Network’s countries.
As explained by Mr. Abdellatif Jari, Head of the Department of e-Procurement System in the General Treasury of the Kingdom of Morocco, the Network “is helping us to pool efforts among countries in the MENA region and to promote convergence of national systems and practices of public procurement. We all understand that 'alone we can go faster, but together we will go further.’''
To learn more about the benefits brought to the region through each Network initiative, the goals and objectives of each activity are articulated by Network Members involved in these efforts in “THE NETWORK SPEAKS” (pdf).
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