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  1. E. John Blunt
    E. John Blunt March 3, 2012 at 6:20 pm

    AUSAid is to be commended for developing and releasing this paper.

    John Eyers is correct in his view that the Paper is overwhelmingly positive where experience may suggest otherwise. Perhaps we are able to learn as much from our failures in this complex and difficult activity as from our successes.

    I do note with interest that there is some emphasis through the Paper on the importance of building state structures and working through host Government systems. Both are critical in sustaining any intervention.

    Also of importance is integrating a focus on public finance management including revenue and expenditure management and procurement. Why procurement? Recent experience in fragile states suggests that public procurement can account for up to 60% to 70% of all government expenditure. In Swaziland, 65.9% of Government of Swaziland expenditure (both recurrent and project) was spent through a procurement process; in Timor-Leste, the percentage was 70.19%; and in Sierra Leone and Uganda, 70%.

    Procurement is a critical consideration in achieving the effective and efficient delivery of public services. It involves the management of a large amount of public funds and is the largest single cause behind allegations of corruption and government inefficiency. The combined effect of high value transactions, excessive discretionary powers afforded to public officials and dependency of private firms on government contracts to survive economically provide fertile grounds for procurement corruption in fragile states. Government contracts also provide an additional source of income for both politicians and bureaucrats and a substantial source of funding for political parties, election campaigns or individual politicians.

    Weak procurement policies and practices constrain fragile state development and waste scarce public funds. Efficient and effective procurement is an important contributing factor to the achievement of superior development effectiveness results for fragile states.

    As procurement is one of the most challenging sectors to reform because it often meets major resistance from vested interests within society, understanding the political economy aspects of procurement is critical to address the underlying factors that may impede the effective implementation of reforms.

    Procurement reform is a highly technical and complex process that requires major changes involving a wide variety of actors with multiple, often conflicting and changing political incentives that can complement or compete against each other. At the operational level, reforms involve major procedural changes that can profoundly alter the work of procurement officers and generate massive resistance from public officials who benefit from the old ways of doing business.

    Any improvement in the public procurement system can have a direct and beneficial effect on the overall economic situation of a fragile state.

    E. John Blunt is an Institutional and Public Procurement Expert with extensive experience in leading public procurement reforms in a variety of international development environments. He has worked in fragile states in the Pacific, Asia and Africa. He is currently on assignment with the Southern African Development Community Secretariat in Botswana.

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