The methods that ought to be employed in sourcing the goods, services and other requirements that are needed directly in the provision of services to residents of the municipality, need to allow the municipality to function as an organization.
These elements of the subject may be described as its operational aspects.
However, the subject of municipal procurement is equally about the corporate governance measures that must be put in place to ensure proper control is exercised over government procurement activity.
These control aspects of municipal procurement may be briefly summarized:
- Have accounts and reports been fully and properly prepared and maintained so that expenditures of public funds can be monitored?
- Have proper procedures been followed to maintain an appropriate regime of checks and balances on public expenditure?
- Has the correct method of procurement been employed for the type of goods or services that are to be purchased?
- Has the money be expended for the purposes for which it was appropriated by the government?
- Has money been expended with due regard to economy, with efficiency and effectiveness?
Perceptions of the nature and scope of the purchasing function within any large organization are still evolving. New innovative approaches have been developed in response to newly identified concerns and changes in buying options, such as those that are resulting from new technologies and increased global trade, and as the full implications of this function on overall organizational operations are coming to be more fully appreciated.
Good procurement is at the heart of good government.
Proper conduct of public procurement entails proper stewardship by every level of government of the public funds entrusted to it, whether raised through taxes levied by that level of government directly or obtained by way of a transfer payment from some other level of government.
Stewardship, in the public procurement context, means the careful and responsible management of public funds, not only through the safeguarding of taxpayers money, but also through the promotion of the public interest.
Within government, the responsibility for proper stewardship is pervasive. It is not simply the responsibility of elected politicians and senior members of the public service.
The duty of stewardship extends to each and every person concerned in public administration, whether as a career public servant or a summer intern, or even if engaged in public administration only in the capacity of a public contractor.
While I have always recognized the importance of following the rules, it is my view that the purchasing function does not end with just the rules.
Far more important considerations are at stake.
The critical goal of public procurement at all levels of government is to get the taxpayer a good deal or, at the very least, to exercise every precaution to avoid having the taxpayer saddled with a bad deal.
In advancing the idea that public procurement should be more result-oriented, I am not alone. As the federal government’s Treasury Board Secretariat once noted. Over recent years there has been a radical reorientation of the public procurement process:
“At one time, public procurement was considered to be a clerical function of government, simply processing purchase orders. This is no longer the case.
“Today, public procurement consists of a widely recognized body of knowledge practiced by professionals with a highly developed expertise who play a critical role in the quality of services delivery to citizens.”
I am also of the view that with limited exceptions, it is the staff of the municipal purchasing department that must take the day-to-day charge over the purchasing function. Individual departments that order goods and services through purchasing are likely to do so for they are focused on the delivery of their own programs and services and are not directly concerned with overall municipal operations.
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.