Across Africa, the state is at the centre of business activities in almost all countries. The state is usually the biggest employer of workers, and is the largest market for the provision of goods and services. The effective management of such transactions by the state determines the meaningful participation – and indeed survival – of many businesses, both large and small.
The state should transact with the business fraternity using clearly defined, well-managed, transparent systems and processes. These do exist in places but they are uncommon.
Rigid hierarchy and duplicated bureaucracies within organisational structures of some institutions are a serious problem. Another issue with good management of procurement is that government business – by nature – generally attracts much competition, which subjects it to the possibilities of fraud, monopolies and maladministration. In many African countries, taxpayers’ money is lost through wasted time because of red tape. Also, many government institutions in Africa are structured and managed in a way that allows nepotism and patronage to flourish.
The result is ineffectiveness, and long and centralised decision-making processes, which hamper quick turnaround times. Innovative initiatives that could see real progress in the average citizen’s life are not actioned.
This is as opposed to what procurement systems ought to be – well-managed, controlled operations that can help create opportunities for businesses to contribute in a balanced way towards economic growth. A lack of transparency, effective public financial management and good corporate governance within a country’s public-sector procurement processes defeats a government’s efforts to achieve its ultimate goal of providing services to its citizens. Thus, this lack poses a great threat to the economic growth of any region.
Stronger procurement policies and strict procedures can help achieve swiftly managed and well-executed procurement processes. If this were to happen, it would favour the growth of local businesses, and especially SMEs, through a balanced participation by both the public and private sectors.
How can nations achieve this? One crucial aspect to consider is a government’s receptiveness to technological innovation, especially so-called e-government processes.
For example, South Africa’s Central Supply Database, Nigeria’s e-government campaigns and Rwanda’s big investment in bringing electronic services to its people are all excellent signs of progress. The involvement of innovational institutions, which operate and collaborate at a continental level, should be intensified in an effort to find more and faster technological solutions to improve the speed and transparency of procurement processes. Institutions such as the Centre for Public Service Innovation in South Africa – an appointed nodal point for the UN Public Administration Network – should be at the heart of developing innovative solutions. But governments need input from the private sector too.
Partnerships between the state and business will be key to achieving sustainable economic growth across Africa. By embracing change brought by technology, governments could prove to be a big part of the solution towards a better life for all.