As the review is moving toward the approval of the Bank’s new procurement framework, Chief Procurement Officer Chris Browne sat down with Angela Walker from the World Bank’s Staff Engagement and Internal Communications department to discuss progress made to date and the challenges and opportunities ahead.
Q: How does efficient procurement achieve better development results?
A: To build the bridge, to buy the medicine, to construct the school, to hire the nurse or the doctor requires some form of procurement by our clients. In the same way we have a challenge attracting the best and brightest people to work for us, we have exactly the same challenge in attracting the best and brightest from our suppliers and business community to bid for Bank-financed contracts, particularly in some of the difficult places that we work. If we get the procurement approach right, we can make sure that our clients get the right people and the best value.
Inside the Bank, I think we should remember that procurement doesn't work on its own. It's wider than just the procurement function. It's also all the project management, the project design, the implementation and everything else. Procurement is one aspect of a bigger picture—toward achieving results—but it's a very important one.
Q: What are some of the challenges we face in the procurement arena?
A: The World Bank is supporting every type of project, from helping women access justice, to environmental cleanup, to supporting some of world's biggest metro systems, to roads in fragile and conflict states. The Bank is working in 168 different countries. Sometimes procurement isn't high on the government agenda. Or companies aren't used to working in the place that we're encouraging them to work in. I can't think of another organization that has to deal with this level of complexity and diversity in terms of its procurement approach.
Q: Has the global financial crisis had an impact on procurement?
A: The Bank commits about $26 billion per year. A huge chunk of that, $14-15 billion, is spent by clients according to the Bank Group's procurement guidelines. We know we have funding pressures going forward. That's why we had the Expenditure Review. Money's getting tighter and tighter for the Bank Group. When we look at our donors and our borrowers, money is getting tighter for them too. The questions we have to ask ourselves are, “Are we getting the most efficient, effective deal for our clients and our borrowers on every project? Can we be 100 percent assured there is no waste? Are we helping our clients to get the best out of their systems?” If we can't answer positively, then we're not supporting development outcomes. The reform addresses these issues. At the same time we’re developing electronic systems to store, track and publicize procurement data that show bottlenecks and inefficiency. We launched the Procurement App at the end of last year and are now working on launching a procurement tracking system, called STEP.