It can be said that good procurement is at the heart of good government. Proper conduct of public procurement entails proper stewardship by each 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. Without government, the responsibility for proper stewardship is pervasive. It is not simply the responsibility of elected politicians and senior members of the public service.
Important as the operational and control aspects of municipal procurement may be, the strategic aspect of such activity are of even more importance. In dealing with the subject of municipal procurement, I have always maintained this continuing theme. It is a fact that municipal procurement needs to become more strategic in design, more deliberative in execution, and more critical in its approach and implementation.
When I started in the procurement field over 40 years ago purchasing departments both in the public and private sectors viewed themselves as essentially the purchasing police. Despite a general change in attitude at most governmental contracting authorities, there are unquestionably many who continue to cling to this view. Consistent with the belief that “the only product of government is process”, those of the purchasing police mentality are completely preoccupied with such weighty matters as whether the correct form was filled out and filed within the time allowed, whether it had the requisite signatures in the right places, all of which were affixed with an appropriate authority, and whether the correct reports were filed on time and with the right people. To the individuals still of this mindset, whether or not the municipal procurement function furthers or undermines overall municipal operations is completely beside the point.
While all of us recognize the importance of following the rules, I think it is safe to say that the purchasing function does not end with the rules. Far more important considerations are at stake. It is, in my opinion, 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.
Strategic planning within a municipality is a joint responsibility of the municipal council and its senior management. Responsibility for strategic planning is ongoing in nature, rather than a once and for all thing. A suitable strategy must be pursued on a continuous basis and matched to the changing circumstances of the municipality and the market in which it competes.
Ongoing strategic planning has become more critical as the pace of change accelerates. At times, if requires not simply adjustment by individual municipalities, but changes across the entire municipal sector — as, for instance, due to the practice of downloading responsibilities to municipalities from senior levels of government.
Strategic purchasing is a systematic approach towards reducing procurement cost while improving the quality of supply, and enhancing the internal process of control. Although my focus has always been on procurement, it is worth observing that the business planning process integration and coordination among the various decision making and operating levels of the municipality is critical.
If a plan is to be carried into effect, it is essential that all operational levels understand the long-term direction of the municipality. The practical implications of a proposal must be taken into account. One of the main goals of critical review is to ensure that these requirements are satisfied.
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.