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By NBF News
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By Kenneth Ehigiator
The Director-General of Public Procurement Bureau, BPP, Engr. Emeka Ezeh, was in Lagos as guest speaker at the 3rd European Union Business meeting, where he spoke on what the Bureau was doing to enthrone accountability in spending of public funds. Ezeh, in an interview after the session, spoke with Vanguard on activities of his Bureau.

How would you assess procurement as an administrative process?

The job is not about how much you can save, but more about how many Nigerians are given opportunity to participate and the value for money that is obtained from an open competition.

If we have several Nigerians winning bids for contracts, the pressure of unemployment will be less; the agitation of people who are idle will be less, so that money will not be left in the hands of a few people who connive with those in government to steal the funds.

It is not so much as to how much that is saved, but how much opportunity you give Nigerians to participate and the actual value for money you get from the competition.

•Engr. Emeka Ezeh
There are claims of non release of not more than 15 per cent of mobilisation funds for contract?

I expect the young companies to start small and grow, you do not just set up a small company and expect to do a contract of N1 billion, there are financial thresholds, N10 million, N20 million, that you can easily raise money from the banks, say about a few million naira and execute it, the beauty of it is that it gives you a sense of responsibility, when you earn money, and you are under pressure to make sure you perform, it helps you to deliver. If you are not under pressure of somebody's money and you make a mistake, you have nothing to lose.

How much has the country lost through fraudulent contracts and how many have been so far prosecuted?

I do not want us to create the impression that Nigeria is a country of fraudulent people, it is not so. When people operate in unregulated environment, they have no restriction, and if you are given an opportunity, it could be abused.

What happens in unregulated environments is that people act without knowledge of the rules. We need to understand the terms of regulated competition in business.

So many things happen in unregulated aspects of business, you do not know and you are competing with those who know, or if the man who is regulating ideas does not know, somebody can take advantage of the system to make money.

What we are doing in Bureau for Public Procurement is to make sure it does not happen, we want market forces to determine those who know the job in the same environment, do the business and we get the value for money.

I want us to see it from that point of view, than looking at fraud as the basis for the action. Some of them are not as a result of what we lost, some of them are just because people are not sure of when they will be paid.

If you have ever done a job for government, you will know that the process of getting money is challenging, so if after the first exercise you lose money, next time when you have the opportunity, you will not put the same price.

When bidding for the next job, for somebody who is ready to pay you as and when due, you find out that there is a difference compared to somebody whom you are not sure when he is going to pay.

Some contractors are alleging that the bigger contractors are highly networked, that is why they are getting all the jobs?

I cannot confirm that allegation because what is in the budget is that when you do your job and get the certificate, you will be paid. After all, they went through the process and got the job and were paid.

Is there any target for the bureau for this year?
I do not want us to look at it from how much we have saved. Rather, how many more Nigerians get jobs without knowing anybody? How many people get jobs without having to know somebody? If people are not regulated, and they have the opportunity, they will take what belongs to other people. It is natural, just like in banking, there are rules just like in all sectors of the economy.

How transparent is the procurement process in Nigeria?

Well, that is part of the reasons why we are here; we challenge everybody that has claims that we are not transparent to make it public.

What about the prison theory?
The prison theory is that so long as there is government, every Nigerian is a potential criminal, and that the choice is yours through your conduct whether you want to go to prison or be free. So long as government exists, every Nigerian is a potential prisoner. The system has sanctions for every offender.

What are those obstacles to the full implementation of contracts?

That is why we are engaging all stakeholders involved in the budget process through the MDAs, to improve their processes, so that if they want to engage in huge projects, it does not mean the money should be ready in one year, it is good to programme it in the number of years that the construction will last, such that if we have this understanding, it will be easier.

I want to assume that it is true that all Nigerians wish Nigeria well, it is not only in BPP that we have people who love Nigeria, everybody loves this country but we must agree to a common code of conduct and behaviour when common issues arise.

Everybody must come to the common understanding of how to handle projects, spending should be based on needs basis.

What about sanction of erring staff and companies?

Everyday, we embark on this; it is an ongoing process.

How many contracts have been so far awarded?
There are so many contracts. For this year alone, we have a request for 952 contracts, nine were denied and 100 are awaiting information from the ministry. The contracts vary from one billion to 20 and 30, 40 billion naira, they are of different categories.