By Jude Njoku
In a bid to ensure transparency in the procurement of government-owned projects, the Federal Government signed the Public Procurement Act into law in 2007. The Act established the Bureau of Public Procurement, BPP as the regulatory authority responsible for the monitoring and oversight of public procurement, harmonizing the existing government policies and practices by regulating, setting standards and developing the legal framework and professional capacity for public procurement in Nigeria.
Six years into the life of the Bureau, construction experts are still clamouring for a transparent procurement system to stem the high level corruption in the construction industry.
President of the Nigerian Institution of Estate Surveyors and Valuers, NIESV, Mr Emeka Eleh in a recent chat with newsmen, called for a transparent procurement system to ensure that Nigerians get a fair worth for the huge amount of money invested on infrastructural projects annually.
Eleh whose professional body last month, brainstormed on infrastructure development and the Nigerian economy, explained that although funding is key to the development of infrastructure in the country, such funds must be judiciously expended.
“What we want to proffer is a transparent procurement system that can ensure that our projects don’t cost far more than they should cost. Every available data indicates that the construction of our road projects costs about the highest in the world. Why would that be? It is because of poor procurement. Our idea is that procurement must be transparent to ensure that Nigerians get a fair worth for the money we spend on infrastructural development,” he said.
Eleh’s views were corroborated by a former Chairman of the Nigerian Institute of Quantity Surveyors, NIQS, Lagos chapter, Mr. Jide Oke. To him, the major problem facing the procurement of projects in Nigeria is corruption and lack of transparency in contract awards and execution.
Mr. Oke who stated that the Procurement Act was passed into law to check the anomalies of previous years and enable the relevant professionals to play their roles in procurement, lamented that politics crept in and quantity surveyors who are professional cost managers were left out in the Procurement Board.
The Procurement Act was intended to correct issues of the past so that relevant professionals will take care of things as it is done in other civilized countries. Unfortunately, politics crept in and Quantity Surveyors who are cost experts, were left out of the Board for Procurement. Assuming it was done inadvertently, why is it taking so long to correct?” he queried.
The former Lagos NIQS chairman who noted that Purchasing and Supply experts were rather appointed to the Procurement Board, insisted that only Quantity Surveyors possess the professional competence to do the costing of projects -buildings, road construction works, oil and gas etc.
Continuing, he said: “Something is definitely wrong with our system. The right professionals are not in the right positions hence you can never have a billing system that will be transparent. We have short-changed ourselves for too long a time and that is why money meant for capital projects have found their way into private projects”.
Proffering further solutions to the dearth of infrastructure in the country, the NIESV President, Mr. Emeka Eleh called on the government to devise a hybrid PPP platform for infrastructural development since it is evident that government cannot do it alone.
“One thing that hampers PPP is not because people cannot bring in money, it is not because foreigners cannot bring in foreign direct investments, Nigeria remains a very wonderful place to invest. Recently, the Vice President of American Oversea Private Investment Corporation OPIC, visited Nigeria and said that Nigeria remains an investment haven for people to bring in money and invest because the returns are there. But the challenge we have is inconsistencies in government policies.
“PPPs cannot operate under a government where policies are inconsistent; where one leader will come and nullify what another leader has done; where you cannot have a 25-year contract and it remains 25 years. So, the issue is that there must be a hybrid funding platform where the government can do the ones they can do and the private sector can do the ones they can do. But the key element is that government policies must be consistent,” he posited.
Buttressing the point further , the NIESV President cited the issue of Bi-Courtney and the Murtala Mohammed Airport in Lagos.
“It is still in court; I don’t know who is right or wrong, but those things don’t encourage, it tends to dampen investors’ interests or confidence. What we are saying is that government must come up with a consistent policy, that is why we have the Infrastructure Concession and Regulatory Commission, ICRC. The policy must be consistent and firm so that if you are given a ten year lease, you will know that you have a ten year lease. Why people are shying away is because they don’t know what would happen tomorrow.
If Government can give you a 10-year lease today, another government can come and cancel the lease; you may have borrowed money from bank and you are stuck. Nobody wants to be going to court everyday, so that issue of government’s policies being consistent is the only way that can create confidence in the PPP arrangement which remains a veritable means of financing development all over the world.
In Lagos, for instance, where many of us live, the Lekki-Epe Toll Road is there. I am sure that people feel freer paying the toll and driving smoothly than using the alternative routes. Tolling on roads is done all over the world, even in the US, everywhere. If the government will use that to develop the roads, all well and good. People are willing.
It is like PHCN, people are willing to pay more to have light because, whereas you pay low to government, people actually pay more to generate power in our houses. What it means is that people are willing to pay more to PHCN if they can have regular power supply,” Eleh said.