I am often asked how policies, procedures and bylaws are adopted, related to the inner workings of a municipality.
Most municipalities adopt a “confirmatory resolution” at each council meeting, in which all proceedings conducted at the meeting are declared to be confirmed by a bylaw.
Thus, any policy approved at a council meeting in effect becomes a bylaw of the municipality.
Of more importance would seem to be the distinction that many municipalities draw between purchasing policies and procedures.
In the norm, policies constitute the general requirements to which staff are expected to adhere in carrying out the purchasing function.
In contrast, procedures constitute the rules of application that prescribe the method of carrying the policies into effect.
Both policies and procedures should encourage purchasing and other staff engaged in the procurement process to operate as a team of resourceful skilled professionals.
This includes working in partnership to procure the best combination of goods and services in the most efficient manner and having a balanced regard for risk, quality, reliability, security and integrity of supply.
For many municipalities, the procedures are prescribed by the senior municipal management, rather than the council. Thus, the procedures do not constitute a municipal bylaw, but where they are enforced by senior staff, they clearly contain staff discretion.
The policies should also be directed towards ensuring that all procurement activities of the municipality serve its current and future needs, provide an economical and efficient service and that the purchasing section is considered a value-added partner in the procurement of goods and services for the municipality.
The policies should establish clear areas of responsibility and lines of accountability for each step in the procurement process.
Whether or not these are set out in the policies themselves, there should be clear consequences for non-compliance that are understood by staff.
Before turning to a detailed consideration of the areas that should be covered in a purchasing policy, it is worthwhile to discuss the purpose that such policies are intended to serve.
The Bellamy Report offered the following guidance in this area through several recommendations:
City council should establish fair, transparent and objective procurement processes. These processes should be structured so that they are and clearly appear to be completely free from political influence or interference.
Councillors should separate themselves from the procurement process. They should have no involvement whatsoever in specific procurements. They have the strongest ethical obligation to refrain from seeking to be involved in any way.
Members of council should not see any documents or receive any information related to a particular procurement while the procurement process is ongoing.
Councillors who receive inquiries from vendors related to any specific procurement should tell them to communicate with… the contact person in the tender document, in accordance with the contact rules in place.
Some staff view vendor-sponsored events as an opportunity to network with their own city colleagues. The city should consider facilitating this important aspect of work culture by holding its own internal educational events, thereby avoiding the risk of undue influence from vendors.
While there is general consensus that a municipal council should not interfere improperly in the procurement process, it is difficult to accept the wisdom of them being completely separated from a process for which they are ultimately responsible.
As long as public accountability and democratic oversight remain a concern of government, it is not only appropriate but necessary for council members to inquire into progress of any anticipated expenditure, particularly those of a significant nature. On the other hand, councillors step too far into the area when they seek to influence the outcome of a contract in favour of or against a particular supplier.
Stephen Bauld is a government procurement expert and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Some of his columns may contain excerpts from The Municipal Procurement Handbook published by Butterworths.