By EMMA UJAH & OSCAR ONWUEMENYI
Poor Federal Government budget implementation has become a major hallmark of the present administration, a situation many members of the public blamed on the perceived delay in contract and procurement processes by the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP) formerly as Due Process office.Â But in this interview, the director-general of the BPP, Engr. Emeka Eze said contractors no longer need certification from his office for payments.Â He also said the NTA facilities upgrade for the forthcoming Under-17 event complied with due process
WHAT has been your experience as director-general of theÂ Â BPP?
My experience has been somewhat challenging in the sense that it is tough to get people to change from the old order to the new order; it is a Herculean task. More especially those who perceive they are losers in the new order have found it very hard to change with the changing times; they are people who have benefited from the old system and so have not welcome the new reforms. The losers, which are made up of a strong and powerful minority have been mounting campaigns against the bureau, or who think that the office ought not to exist.
Will you say that so far the bureau has meaningfully achieved the objectives for its being set up, in terms of giving the Nigerian public value for money in public contracting?
It is not traditional for people to beat their own drums, but we have succeeded in providing a level-playing ground for bidders by ensuring competition; we insist that every procurement must be advertised to tell people what is going on so that if anyone considers himself qualified, he can come and compete. Another one is transparency, which is anchored on an open and competitive process, and this is a hallmark of our work in the bureau. Value for money is a derivative of both competition and transparency.
Value for money is achieved when you create a free market scenario, whereby bidders bring in the best possible rates in order to get the jobs. Perhaps what is challenging for us is achieving efficiency, which is primarily at the level of implementation, and this is the responsibility of the implementing agencies. Bu issues of transparency, value for money, competition have already been achieved.
One of the biggest projects by this administration so far is the expansion of the major access roads into the FCT, which is reportedly gulping over N250 billion. So many Nigerians contend that the amount for this particular project is way too much. What is the position of the bureau on this?
It is a question of when someone is making a comment on what they lack expert knowledge on. Itâ€™s like somebody saying the amount of money spent by the American government in going to space is extra-ordinary! Meanwhile such a person does not have an inkling of how much it costs to go to space. There are a lot of armchair experts who have any idea of what it takes to do these things.
When you see a cost, it is not just about numbers; it is about the scope of work involved. In the case of the project for expansion of the two roads, for instance, when you go to the Airport road, you will see that the job involves relocation of existing service lines; on one side you will see 33kva double-circuit power lines moving from the city to the international airport, which must be relocated for the work on the road to be done, and it is part of the cost.
Are youÂ saying
that after certifying the award you no longer participate in the contract? Is there no way the MDAs refer to you since sometimes these contracts are segmented?
It is not segmented.
Recently at a media roundtable for journalists, we tried to educate the public on the operations of the BPP. You recall that over time, there was outcry by some ministries and departments that the BPP was creating bottlenecks in the implementation of projects, and everyone was coming here for payments, and so on.
Then, the framers of the law in line with global practice thought that as a regulator, the bureau should not get involved in the implementation, and payment is an implementation issue. This is because if somebody has a responsibility to implement a project, who gets to say what I need and having selected somebody who will do it for him, when he raises an invoice in line with the agreement he may have signed, he doesnâ€™t need to come to usâ€¦ however, the law requires us to do a procurement audit â€“ to go post-mortem, especially for those projects that are not within our threshold, to look at issues that might affect project implementation and find out if there are delays in payment that will cause a contractor to make claims for interest on the late payment.
Before the lawÂ Â establishing the BPP was passed, we used to issue certificates of payments and awards, and that made this place a beehive of activities. But not any longer, and the law has also said no more certificates of payment. The former chief executives here had no law to operate with, and had to make do with administrative circulars and directives. I am privileged to be the first director general of the bureau to operate with an enabling law after it was signed by President Umaru Yarâ€™Adua on June 4, 2007.
We have heard a lot of controversy over the award of contract for the NTA equipment upgrade for the Under 17 World Cup to be hosted by Nigeria. Did that contract go through due process?
I have explained this thoroughly in the recent past. It is a very simple thing. Before they came to us, there were petitions and counter petitions that went to the president and he asked us to get involved. Unfortunately, the country knew that we would be hosting the junior world cup since last year, and no provision was made forÂ its coverage in this yearâ€™s budget. This was source of the problem. How do you plan to upgrade your facilities when you have no money, and that is one of the key elements of the procurement law – there has to be some form of funding.
So, NTA was in a quagmire about how to get the get the
money, and manufacturersâ€™ representatives were invited by the authority to submit quotations. Let us point out here that project was not just for one; it was a four-in-one project, so when people say upgrading of OB vans they must understand that it involved more than just upgrading containers with computers: there is flyaway kit, there is OB vans, there is hub centre and another one, all integrated into the contract.
When two of them submitted, we found out that contrary to what the law says, they were quoting for different things. When you are not bidding on the same platform, you cannot make an informed assessment or evaluation, and so it leaves you to the subjectivity of those who are doing the assessment.
They all came here and we looked at the issues as the law requires; there we noted some discrepancies in the letters of invitation to tender and letters of submission. Some things didnâ€™t add up, and also details of what they submitted showed different things. There and then we agreed with the technical people from NTA and asked them to go back look at the separate submissions and to harmonise their requirements. We also raised the issue of funding, because it was vital to the successful execution of the contract.
We told the bidders to make a submission on their financial offers and how the project would be funded, with the possibility of contractor-finance. On the day we agreed to meet, they all came and as the law required us to do, they all came with a submission and opened their bids in our presence.