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Policy Note: E-Government Procurement: Towards an Efficient and Transparent Procurement Management at the Local level

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Policy Note, August 2016

E-Government Procurement: Towards an Efficient and Transparent Procurement Management at the Local level

Contributor: Dr. Mirza M. Hassan, Muhammad Ashikur Rahman, Md. Mahan Ul Hoque

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Introduction

The purpose of this policy note is two-fold: a) to provide an empirical assessment of the experiences (benefits derived, process related challenges, governance issues, capacity/proficiency factors) of both state officials and business community, in using Electronic Government Procurement or e-GP at the local level; and b) to offer a few policy recommendations, which will contribute to the relevant policy development in this area. In mid 2010, the government started piloting the ‘integrated e-GP System’ for selected procuring entities such as Local Government Engineering Department (LGED), Roads and Highways Department (RHD), Bangladesh Water Development Board (BWDB) and Bangladesh Rural Electrification Board (REB). The aim of the government is to roll out the tested e-GP system across all procuring entities which use public funds. The Central Procurement Technical Unit (CPTU) of IMED, Ministry of Planning, is implementing e-GP.


There are many nations in the world who have been successful in bringing technological and dynamic changes into the procurement process. South Korea and the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh have implemented e-GP very successfully. Bangladesh has also made considerable progress in implementing e-GP. According to a recent WB study, the number of bidders per tender rose to seven in 2015 from four in 2007. The processing time - from invitation of tenders to award of contracts - dropped to 29 days last year (2015) from 51 days in 2012. e-GP has simplified the public procurement process for both procuring entities and bidders. Bidders now can submit tenders online using the e-GP portal, from where and through which procuring agencies (PAs) and procuring entities (PEs) are able to perform their procurement related activities using a dedicated secured web based dashboard. This online platform is designed to ensure equal access to the bidders, to reduce transaction cost, and to increase efficiency, transparency and accountability in the public procurement process in Bangladesh.

Bangladesh needs to ensure inclusiveness, independence, accountability, efficiency and effectiveness of institutions- Expert says

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Bangladesh needs to ensure inclusiveness, independence, accountability, efficiency and effectiveness of institutions
Speakers stressed at a seminar on SDG 16

SDG Seminar

To ensure strong institutions, four things are needed -- inclusiveness, independence, accountability, and efficiency, said Dr. Sultan Hafeez Rahman, the Executive Director of BRAC Institute of Governance and Development, BRAC University at a seminar on Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions (Goal 16 of the SDGs), held on August 24, 2016 at BRAC Centre Inn in the capital. Citing the preamble of the Bangladesh Constitution, he mentioned that, it is high time for the stakeholders to find out the obstacles in strengthening institutions. He identified Parliament, Election Commission, Public Service Commission, Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General, and Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) as institutions of accountability and the judiciary and law enforcement agencies as institutions of the rule of law. He highlighted several policies that the government has formulated to support implementation of SDGs. They include National Integrity Strategy, Seventh Five-year Plan, Perspective Plan: Vision 2021, and National Sustainable Development Strategy. Goal 16 of SDGs reads "promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all, and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels." He added.

Dr Badiul Alam Majumder, Secretary of Citizens for Good Governance (Sujan) and a Panelist of the seminar said that the country requires statutory institutions more active to stop corruption. He also highlighted the role of non-state institutions, including political parties and civil society in reducing corruption effectively.

Dr Nasiruddin Ahmed, Commissioner of Anti-Corruption Commission said that, public servants work for their own interest rather than the interest of the people. Referring to 25 public hearings that ACC have organised across the country, he said the findings are that the people do not get services from the government offices that they are supposed to get. He highlighted weakness of the institutions in ensuring transparency and accountability of the government offices, in combating corruption and in protecting the people's rights. He also referred that “The reports are forwarded to the Parliament, which is supposed to hold discussions on them. But I've never heard that any such discussion has been held." According to him, simplification and digitalisation of the government's services are required to ensure that the people are getting proper services from the public offices.

Dr Debapriya Bhattacharya, distinguished fellow of Center for Policy Dialogue (CPD) moderated the seminar, while Manzoor Hasan, executive director of South Asian Institute of Advanced Legal and Human Rights Studies, co-chaired the event. Barrister Sara Hossain, Honorary Executive Director of Bangladesh Legal Aid & Services Trust (BLAST) and Dr. Iftekharuzzaman, Executive Director of Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) also attended the seminar as panelists. Among others the programme was attended by the representatives from civil society, academicians, political scientist, government officials, NGOs, INGOs, development partners and media.

 

Media Coverage                                           Photo Gallery 

IGC-BIGD Seminar addresses policy issues of RMG industry in Bangladesh

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IGC-BIGD Seminar addresses policy issues of RMG industry in Bangladesh

BIGD IGC Seminar on RMG Small
(From left to right)Mushfiq Mobarak, Achyuta Adhvaryu, Hedayatullah Al-Mamoon, Wahiduddin Mahmud,
and Sultan Hafeez Rahman seen at the seminar

The International Growth Centre (IGC) and BRAC Institute of Governance and Development (BIGD), BRAC University jointly hosted a seminar titled ‘Readymade Garments Industry: Informing Policy with Evidence Based Research’ on 17 July 2016 at Lakeshore Hotel, Dhaka. The half day seminar presented findings from two research studies on the readymade garments sector followed by in depth discussion on policy issues facing the industry.

Professor Mushfiq Mobarak, Yale University; Lead Academic, IGC Bangladesh programme, and Achyuta Adhvaryu, Assistant Professor of Business Economics and Public Policy, University of Michigan made two presentations in the seminar titled ‘Growth in Garment Sector Jobs, and Impacts on Education’ and ‘Soft Skills training for garment workers in India: A Randomized Evaluation’ respectively.

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Mr. Hedayatullah Al-Mamoon, Senior Secretary, Ministry of Commerce chaired the seminar. Dr. Sultan Hafeez Rahman, Executive Director, BIGD, and Country Director, IGC Bangladesh gave the opening remarks along with Prof. Wahiduddin Mahmud, Senior Advisor, IGC Bangladesh, and advisor to the former Caretaker Government. Mr. Nick Beresford, Deputy Country Director, UNDP was the discussant on the papers presented. 

The objective of this event was to disseminate the findings of the two research papers on Readymade garments industry to the relevant stakeholders in Bangladesh. The seminar was attended by officials from government, ministries, private sector including RMG buying houses, industry associations, development partners, researchers, academics, representatives from think tanks etc.

 

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Speakers stressed on remedial measures to resolve shortcomings of local government institutions

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BIGD-Sharique dissemination seminar
Speakers stressed on remedial measures to resolve shortcomings
of local government institutions

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(From left to right) Melina Papageorgiou Trippolini, H.E. Christian Fotsch, Sultan Hafeez Rahman, Sultana Kamal
and Nasiruddin Ahmed at the seminar

At the local government, while a lot of functions have been given to the UP, these have not been complemented by adequate authority and capacity to raise local revenue  to meet the financial need for discharging these functions. To resolve the gap,  increasing revenues alone will not empower UPs to carry out effective public service delivery. This has to be matched with enhanced capacity for managing local revenues and engaging citizens in planning and budgeting development. Also, while there is interest among the political parties  to  increase  the  involvement  of women and the interest of women and young girls  in  the  local government level,  various  social  norms  and  prejudices   prevent   them   from   joining.   In   addition,   the   culture   and   the   ways   of  functioning  of  the  parties  are  not  women  friendly. This gap needs to be addressed by   the   political   parties   to   expand   their   membership,  develop  their  younger  members  and   ensure   that   women   and   girls   are   encouraged to join and develop their skills and leadership.  The  provision  of  safe  spaces  and  culturally  appropriate  activities  could  help  break the barriers and hesitations that women and their families have. Moreover,  the officials of the service delivery departments of local government level are strongly accountable to their higher authority i.e. to their ministerial hierarchy above instead of being towards UZP elected body for their functions and activities. Although the departments are linked with UZP through Committees and other meetings, these linkages do not ensure any real transfer of power and authority to the UZP in terms of utilisation of departmental funds. 

These findings and recommendations were shared from three qualitative action researches conducted under local governance programme Sharique III  in its project areas on (i) Revenue Mobilisation in Union Parishads (ii) Women’s Representation in Union Parishads and (iii) State of Accountability of the Transferred Departments at the Upazila Parishad and its Consequences for Allocation and Utilisation of Resources: A Study of three Departments, in a seminar organised by BRAC Institute of Governance and Development (BIGD), BRAC University, in cooperation with HELVETAS Swiss Inter cooperation (HSI) and Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) on July 30, 2016 at Dhaka with the aim to actively engage in the national debate on decentralisation issues.

The seminar began with opening remarks from Ms. Melina Papageorgiou Trippolini, Programme Manager of Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC). Afterwards, Dr. Sultan Hafeez Rahman, Executive Director, BIGD, delivered the first presentation of the study titled “Public Finance and Revenue Mobilisation in the Union Parishad.” This study aimed to analyse the system, processes and citizens’ participation in local revenue collection. It looked into UPs’ current status and capacity in revenue mobilisation and assessed the influence of citizens’ participation on local development planning and budgeting. While a lot of functions have been given to the UP, these have not been complemented by adequate authority and capacity to raise local revenue through means such as imposing taxes, assessment, collection etc. to meet the financial need for discharging these functions. The study recommended that increasing revenues alone will not empower UPs to carry out effective public service delivery. This has to be matched with enhanced capacity for managing local revenues and engaging citizens in planning and budgeting development. Following the presentation, Dr. Nasiruddin Ahmed, Commissioner, ACC shared his observations and view as a discussant.

 
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Ms. Maheen Sultan (first from right) is seen delivering her presentation
 
Ms Maheen Sultan, Visiting Fellow of BIGD presented findings of the study titled “Women’s Representation in Union Parishads” in the second phase of the seminar which was moderated by Ms. Simeen Mahmud, Lead Researcher of Gender and Social Transformation Cluster, BIGD. The study found that most of the female members had not been directly involved in politics before elections and most of them did not have a clear idea about what it would mean to be a public representative. Another interesting finding of the study was that women UP members preferred to contest for reserved seats because they would then not have to compete against men, thus reducing competition and reducing election expenses. Political parties and citizens also favour voting for women in reserved seats. However, once elected, the women on reserved seats felt at a disadvantage compared to men in general seats because they felt they did not have access resources to distribute to voters or projects to implement, in proportion to their constituency (three wards). Additionally, the study revealed that many women who have been elected once do not seek re-election a second time contrary to the common hope that they would in fact want to contest for general seats in a second round.
Followed by the presentation,  Dr. Maleka Banu, General Secretary, Bangladesh Mahila Parishad; and Dr. Badiul Alam Mazumder, Secretary, SUJAN discussed on the paper. Views and suggestions were also collected from UP reserved seat Members.
The thirds phase of the seminar hosted a presentation by Dr. Mirza M. Hassan, Adjunct Fellow, BIGD on the study titled “State of Accountability of the Transferred Departments at the Upazila Parishad and its Consequences for Allocation and Utilisation of Resources: A Study of three Departments.” Dr. Sultan Hafeez Rahman moderated the session and an interactive discussion followed by the presentation.
 
30.07.2016 Sharique Seminar  PIC 18 Medium
 
The study assessed the de jure and precisely de facto nature of accountability relations between officials of the transferred departments (service delivery departments) and elected representatives of the Upazila Parishad (UZP). It also examined the implications of such relationships on the process of resource allocation and utilisation at the local level. The study has revealed that officials of the transferred departments are strongly accountable to their higher authority i.e. to their ministerial hierarchy above. The study shows that mechanisms for such type of accountability do not exist between UZP elected body and the officials of the transferred departments. Also, the transferred officials have very little incentive to be answerable to the UZP for their functions and activities. The study also observed that although the transferred departments are linked with UZP through Committees and other meetings, these linkages do not ensure any real transfer of power and authority to the UZP in terms of utilisation of departmental funds. In practice, the transferred departments continue to be accountable to their respective ministries and follow their rules and regulations.
 
Prof. Akhter Hussain , University of Dhaka discussed on the paper. Dr. Sultan Hafeez Rahman moderated an interactive discussion followed by the presentation. 
 
30.07.2016 Sharique Seminar  PIC 20 Small
 
H.E. Christian Fotsch, Ambassador of Switzerland , as Special Guest also spoke at the event. In her speech, Chief Guest of the programme, Advocate Sultana Kamal urged all to be vocal about the local government reform issues. Dr. Sultan Hafeez Rahman delivered the concluding remarks and vote of thanks.
30.07.2016 Sharique Seminar  PIC 22 Small
 
Among others, local government experts, representatives from government institutions, academicians, researchers, journalists, development practitioners as well as elected representatives from Sharique project areas also attended the event.
Click below the links to see the wide media coverage, and the research briefs of the research studies shared at the event.
 

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Download Case Study : Textbook Quality and Distribution in Bangladesh

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PPRP Case Study Textbook Quality and Distribution01 copy Small 
Case Study
Textbook Quality and Distribution
in Bangladesh

(Click here to View and Download)

This case study, titled ‘Textbook Quality and Distribution in Bangladesh’ takes a closer look into the textbook procurement and tries to understand the major challenges in the ensuring of quality textbooks. Text book distribution and quality monitoring is one of the projects where citizen engagement has been introduced under PPRP II.  The report from the citizen monitoring group suggests that textbook quality has been a major issue in all the schools that were inspected by the committee.

Intro of the study
Public procurement is one of the most crucial areas of government operation which involves huge allocation of public funds and needs a considerable amount of technical expertise to be dealt with. This sector remains ‘most vulnerable to corruption’ and its integrity is threatened by the opportunities that exist ‘for both public and private actors to divert public funds for private gain’ (Beth, 2007). It is also stated that ‘public procurement tends to involve relatively few, but high‐value transactions. Compared to sectors with low‐value and a high number of transactions the procurement officers thus have more to gain on corrupt behavior (Ware et al., 2007 cited in Heggstad et al. 2010).’

The risk of corruption and pilferage involved in public procurement is more visible in case of some public works like public construction works or utility service provisions whereas in other areas it is not so easily identifiable. Educational procurement is one of such areas where problems are many but evidence is not. As OECD rightly argues, lack of data makes it even more complicated to assess the level of vulnerabilities in educational procurement (OECD, 2012). Amongst different types of educational procurement, textbook procurement is one of the most ‘risky’ due to its high priority, strict deadlines and high allocation of public fund. 

This case study deals with procurement in the education sector, particularly procurement of text books and with a specific attention to production and quality of primary school textbooks and their distribution in Bangladesh. It will be important to note that textbook quality in this particular case study refers to the print quality and not the content. An assessment of content of primary school textbooks goes beyond the scope of this case study. 

This year, as a part of the activities taken under the Public Procurement Reform Project–II (PPRP-II), the BRAC Institute of Governance and Development (BIGD) has developed and piloted a third party monitoring strategy in two districts of Bangladesh. Text book distribution and quality monitoring is one of the projects where citizen engagement has been introduced under PPRP II.  The report from the citizen monitoring group suggests that textbook quality has been a major issue in all the schools that were inspected by the committee.This case study takes a closer look into the textbook procurement and tries to understand the major challenges in the ensuring of quality textbooks.

 

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Dr. Sultan Hafeez Rahman stressed on the role of country specific democratic institutions to achieve SDG Goals at Oxford Seminar

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Dr. Sultan Hafeez Rahman stressed on the role of country specific democratic institutions to achieve SDG Goals at Oxford Seminar
 
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Dr. Sultan Hafeez Rahman, Executive Director, BIGD (Top left) is seen at Oxford University's
5th Seminar on Advancing Good Governance in international Development

Active role of country specific democratic institutions is crucial for implementing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Besides, the NGOs need to find a balance between providing services and advocacy with accountability to achieve the goals, says Dr. Sultan Hafeez Rahman, Executive Director of BIGD, BRAC University at the Oxford University’s 5th Seminar on Advancing Good Governance in international Development- Peace, Security, and Governance in Goal 16: How Do We Tackle, from 9-10 June, 2016 at the Rhodes House, OXFORD.  

Dr. Rahman was invited as a Speaker at the event. He was one of the distinguished panelists in the closing plenary of the event: Transforming the Institutions of Global Governance: What Does Goal 16 Demand? of the event.

In his discussion, Dr. Sultan Hafeez Rahman highlighted the role of country specific democratic institutions for implementing the SDGs. Agreed at the United Nations in last September, the SDGs comprise 17 goals and 169 targets aimed at resolving social, economic and environmental problems by 2030.

Referring to the current scenario of democratic institutions in Bangladesh, Dr. Rahman said that, Bangladesh is an example of a nation where deeply divided interests have led to a governance vacuum. Historically, tensions between the secular segment of population and those who oppose it partly have led to political bifurcation between the ruling party (the AL) and a heterogenous opposition which represents a whole range of political interest from secular Muslims to fringe elements believed to have extremist links. In the absence of well solid democratic governance institutions, changes to the equilibrium between those two groups have led to conflict.

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In relation to activism, Dr. Rahman told that, NGOs need to find a balance between providing services and advocacy with accountability. In an atmosphere of increased distrust, some governments have missed the opportunity to motivate and engage their own citizens. NGOs have been seen as prime movers in innovating and promoting grassroots approaches that embrace civil society as advocates for change. However, those same NGOs have also taken on the role of service delivery, which has diluted their activist role. On the other hand it also led to a weakening of government provision of services and responsiveness to citizens. NGOs need to rethink their role in light of these ‘tensions’. 

Mr. Amar Bhattacharya, Senior Fellow, Global Economy and Development Program, Brookings Institution, and Professor Ngaire Woods, Dean, Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford were present with Dr. Rahman in the plenary.

From BIGD, Md. Harun Or Rashid, Research Associate also participated in the Seminar as part of the Institute’s capacity building and networking on the SDGs. In the Seminar, among others, Ian Goldin, Professor and Director of Oxford Martin School; Dr. Jemilah Mahmood, Under Secretary General of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and former Head of the World Humanitarian Summit Secretariat; Ms. Saba Al Mubaslat, CEO, Humanitarian Leadership Academy; Mr. Alexander Betts, Professor of Refugee and Forced Migration Studies, Oxford Department of International Development; and Mr. Phil Vernon, Director of Programmes, International Alert participated as invited Speakers at the event.

The annual seminar is jointly organised by Camfed International, the Oxford Department of International Development, the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship at Saïd Business School, and Linklaters. It brings together thought leaders and practitioners from civil society, government, academia, and the private sector with the goal of facilitating dialogue on the topic of governance and how to make development more effective and sustainable.

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