The right stuff

The government is reported to have decided to introduce a bill titled Public Procurement Act (PPA) which will seek to discipline both the donors and the government in financial matters by putting in place a ‘self-correction and control mechanism’. It will serve as an umbrella act which will apply to all government offices, corporations, state-owned banks and commissions, as well as to the donors as and when they invite consultancy services or tenders. This

purports to inject transparency and accountability into financial deals and thus to break ‘monopoly’.

The proposed bill provides for a separate office called the Public Procurement and Monitoring

Office under the Office of the Prime Minister, with a secretary-level chief.

According to officials at the finance ministry, the lack of uniformity in procurement procedure between the government-owned institutions and donor agencies has given rise to the need for the aforementioned bill. So far, the government’s financial regulations have applied to procurement deals, as well as to other financial decisions. The importance of a transparent and effective procurement law is testified by the fact that the lion’s share of the government’s budget goes into procurement of goods and services. However, this step is being taken at the behest of donors, including the World Bank, who have sought to promote “donors’ harmonisation”. The bill includes features such as that there will be no different categories of contractors, and that every tender process will be transparent, giving any bidder the option to go to court if he disagrees with the way a contract has been awarded.

It is difficult to believe that the proposed bill will produce dramatic results. It is rather the situation of virtual impunity for wrong-doers in authority and the utter lack of political will that have led to most of the problems in Nepal. Even within the existing laws, rules and regulations, things could have been much better, so an ‘umbrella act’ will per se achieve little by itself. One glaring example is provided by the irregularities pointed out in the Auditor-General’s report year in and year out, with all those reports gathering dust in the government’s shelves, although the ever-rising irregularities are worth about Rs.40 billion. An auditor-general had gone on record saying that the government has not even maintained a proper accounting of all the foreign aid that has come into the country over the years. Politicians, bureaucrats and other government officials have been pursuing interests that conflict with the functions of their official positions, but with impunity. And officials claim that with the new legislation things would come out all right, as if it were the law, not their corrupt tendencies, which had been the barrier to good governance. The record of the donors, too, who are often seen to have been the fellow travellers, is far from satisfactory when it comes to exacting accountability from the government.