Over the past five years, citizens across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) have demanded more equal economic opportunity and more development, more say in government decisions, a more responsive and effective public sector, and an end to corruption.
In response, the World Bank’s teams have worked with regional governments to improve transparency, participation, and social accountability. This is because the three pillars of successful, effective governance are: increasing value for money, improving public service delivery, and creating an enabling environment for private sector-led growth. And in this context, public procurement, with links to all three pillars, is an essential, cross-cutting element of governance reforms.
“Good procurement systems are a necessity for Gulf countries as they look to diversify their economies and boost the private sector,” said Nadir Mohammed, GCC Country Director at the World Bank. “Knowledge exchanges between Arab countries that share similar challenges can serve to empower policy officials in their respective countries.”
MENA’s procurement team presented its first course on current trends in public procurement reform at the IMF–Middle East Center for Economics and Finance (CEF) in Kuwait earlier this year, sharing its experiences in regional and international procurement reform with 30, high-level government officials from 11 countries in the region.
“We consider this to be one of the CEF’s core courses geared toward ensuring good governance in Arab countries, which is essential for durable, inclusive economic development”, said CEF Director Oussama Kanaan. “The practical, hands-on training delivered as part of it, which complemented the discussions of a rigorous conceptual framework on best practices in public procurement policy, was especially well received by participants.”
Public procurement accounts for 15%–20% of GDP, so transparent systems have the power to catalyze the private sector and promote economic growth by opening up business opportunities to more people and generally improving the local environment for investment and business, competition and competitiveness.
Thus, reforming and modernizing public procurement is one way to help people pursue their aspirations by creating good systems that feature transparency, accountability, and stakeholder participation.
“A knowledge sharing exercise such as this speaks to and helps empower the procurement reform processes that are taking place across the region and already producing results,” noted Yolanda Tayler, World Bank Regional Procurement Manager for MENA.
Rather than “how to do” procurement, the course showcased “how to improve” it through high-level reforms to upgrade performance. Officials presented case studies, including Morocco’s reform process, Tunisia and Morocco’s e-procurement systems, and the initiatives of the Marrakech Task Force, such as Lebanon’s pilot. Morocco’s experience demonstrated the importance of strong political will and international cooperation to sustain reform.
The peer-learning complemented the Bank-supported MENA Regional Network of Procurement Experts, which has brought together representatives to learn from each other’s lessons and take initiatives, such as creating a regional procurement e-portal, and coming up with a capacity building strategy and training program for Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) to enhance their participation in public procurement markets.
Participants shared what they knew about enabling factors, as well as challenges and tailored approaches in procurement reform in the context of different countries. Their discussions focused on: legal and institutional modernization; innovative procedures; green and sustainable policies and practices; the professionalization of procurement through training and integrity; anti-corruption efforts; and measuring procurement results and performance.
Poor governance of public procurement turns public investments into major political and economic liabilities, hinders development goals, and results in added costs and the waste of public funds. A modern, progressive public procurement system on the other hand is indispensable to improvement and a key instrument for promoting sustainable development.