As we begin a new year with new municipal councils, the government has the perfect opportunity to make changes to the procurement process that have been required for many years.
I have always said that government procurement is not the sexiest topic to talk about.
However, it is critical that municipal councils have a solid understanding of how policy and procedures can impact a city with respect to functioning properly.
An ideal democratic system is representative and has effective leaders. In practice, democratic government is administered in part by elected officials who represent the citizenry, and in part by a full-time and permanent administration (the civil service) which runs the machinery of the municipality.
The need for expertise and continuity necessitates the latter; the need for input from the electorate, the former.
In order for this delicately balanced system to function well, there must be a mutual understanding and recognition among elected officials and the administrative civil service of the role each is expected to play in the day-to-day operation of the government.
These general principles apply as much to the municipal level as any other level of government.
For a municipality to function most efficiently, it is necessary that both the elected and administrative officials of the municipality appreciate the distinct roles they play in operating this level of government effectively.
It seems almost self-evident that trust is a necessary condition of democracy and a civil society in which institutions represent individuals.
Without trust, the system is liable to break down.
The complex relationship existing between a municipal council and its staff in relation to the procurement process can best be described in the following manner.
The staff derives their authority from the council. Council’s approval is needed for high dollar contracts, both in terms of budgetary authority to spend and the authority to contract.
However, absent the input from staff, council has little real idea where to allocate funds.
As I have written in previous columns related to the contracting process from authorization to the issue of a tender or RFP notice, the responsibility of the municipal council is broadly analogous to the role of the board of directors within a corporation.
Councillors are expected to exercise duties of loyalty, good faith and care.
For all but the smallest municipalities, it is unusual for them to be directly involved in municipal administration.
Essentially, their role is of a policy formation and management supervisory function.
In addition to setting policy, the elected officials of a municipality have a critical role to play in supervising the daily management of the municipality as a corporation.
While this role includes the approval of budgets, the introduction of appropriate measures to ensure municipal funds and assets are properly administered and the hiring of competent managerial staff to administer the municipal corporation, just as importantly council is tasked with ensuring that proper staff training is in place so that staff have the skills necessary to carry out the tasks assigned to them.
This also should apply to new council members.
New council members should undergo basic training in the procurement process as many of them are not familiar with public sector rules.
Stephen Bauld is a government procurement expert and can be reached at email@example.com.
Some of his columns may contain excerpts from The Municipal Procurement Handbook published by Butterworths.