While many Filipinos were satisfied of President Noynoy’s (PNOY) first state of the nation address (SONA), others were not as excited and some were disappointed.

“Disappointment”, I believe is not appropriate for now – unless you have an “attitude of indifference” towards the government, a behavior others love to show in the streets and in media interviews.

In his SONA last July 26 at the Batasan, there has been no mention though of how will PNOY utilize the power of technology to combat graft and corruption. Billions of pesos are lost to graft and corruption every year – that’s a fact. It is a “fact” that someone or some groups could earn a minimum of 20-30% or more in “commission” and “gratuities” in many government projects.

The Government Procurement Reform Act (R.A. 9184), enacted in 2002 did not help much, and is in need of some serious revisions, and nobody’s looking into it. In this article, I talk about the Procurement activities of the Government. Aside from taxes collections in BIR and Bureau of Customs, government purchases of goods and services are rich sources of graft and corruption.

R.A. 9184 was enacted to regulate procurement in the government. It is supposed to implement a system of transparency and competitiveness, streamline procurement process, institute a system of accountability and provide monitoring of contracts and purchases publicly but when you dig deeper, R.A. 9184 is nothing more than a wordy document which bears no teeth at all, and cannot be effectively implemented by itself.

Here are some of the reasons why I am saying it’s ineffective:

  1. It talks about implementing an electronic procurement system, called G-EPS. But implementing a software system like G-EPS requires more than just asking people to use it. Process changes have to be made by standardizing all government procurement processes. Unfortunately, if you go to any government offices, you will find different processes in procuring say, a ballpen.
  2. The Commission on Audit (COA), the agency tasked of making sure all purchases in the government are compliant to laws, rules and regulations, and void of any “wrongdoings” is as ineffective. I may be wrong, but COA is still requiring tons of paper works in almost all processes including procurement. This audit body is in need of serious “overhaul”. People always object to ideas and suggestions of doing things the better way because those were not “compliant” to COA policies. Thus it is not a surprise that it takes ages for COA to uncover questionable contracts and deals because they are stuck and buried with those useless papers and complicated manual processes.
  3. Closed bidding is still enforced in many government procurement processes. This is still prone to graft and corrupt activities.
  4. In many government offices, requesting to purchase say, office supplies takes about 3 months before a contract is awarded – this is mainly because the request has to go through a lot of channels/people before it can be approved. This is in contradiction to what R.A. 9184 espouses, which is to streamline procurement processes in all government offices.
  5. Provisions to “alternative modes of procurement” are giving some government officials, especially those at the top the way override the implementing rules of R.A. 9184. The smaller contracts usually go to the stringent requirements of R.A. 9184, but the bigger contracts can be easily negotiated with Suppliers or Contractors by just simply certifying the requirement as “urgent” or “critical”. So these types of contracts normally skip the sourcing, qualification and bidding processes.
  6. R.A. 9184 also aims to implement a system of accountability to both the buyer of goods/services and the Supplier/Contractor. However, there is no specific agency tasked to review if purchases are in order, or that the service rendered is compliant to technical specifications, and penalize substandard deliveries. Is there an agency responsible for this?

I can spend the whole day ranting about these things but its about time Noynoy and this administration seriously take a look into improving the procurement process, system and people. These are, in my most humble opinion are some of the things to be considered:

  1. Streamline and standardize Procurement activities across all government offices by implementing a simpler yet globally accepted processes of procurement which focus on speedy, less paper work but more controlled purchasing activities.
  2. With the implementation of the changes and standardization of Procurement processes, next step is to look at the people’s readiness and acceptance to these changes. If the people are not ready to embrace these changes, implementations of systems and new processes always fails. They need to be informed and involved in the change process. This requires a very effective Change Management team in the government.
  3. Third is to implement a simple, easy to use procurement software system that follows globally accepted procurement processes and practices yet cheap to acquire and maintain. PNOY, in my humble opinion should seriously consider adoption of Open Source systems in all government offices – as it is cheaper to acquire, and we have enough talents and resources to tap. Did you know that a recent report showed that many Philippine government offices are using “fake” or “pirated” software? This can be easily resolved by taking a look at the potential use of Open Source systems and implement it in phases. The Singapore government has already announced that they too will be utilizing Open Source system – so why can’t we?
  4. Improve the procurement lead time from currently 3 months to a few weeks and this can be achieved only by streamlining the processes, as well as for COA to be able to adopt to these changes. Rather than spending lots of hours auditing endless paper documents, COA auditors can easily “audit” and control software transactions instead.
  5. The government should look into the merits of making all bids transparent to everyone involved, even with competing Contractors and Suppliers to lessen the incidence of “under the table” negotiations and deals. Thus, an Open Bidding system is a better way to go than Closed Bidding system.
  6. The “alternative modes of Procurement” like shopping or negotiated contract should no longer be allowed except for specific circumstances. But in order to speed up the deliveries of items such as office supplies and consumables, the government should instead “pre-qualify” Suppliers and award the supply of these type of items for a term, say, yearly basis. This way, the bidding process is done only once, to a single or multiple supplier, and the government can even save a significant amount due to bulk purchase discounts.

Improvements to systems and processes can only be effectively done when you implement a technology solution along with it. President Noynoy can start with implementing a true National Procurement System – a system where all processes, people and government agencies like the COA are in-synched, and the system does not cost an arm and a leg and can be easily implemented.

Open Source is a potential tool the government can consider. It is way cheaper, but still reliable. Just for comparison, a certain government agency is currently implementing a national procurement system using a leading software solution which costs millions of pesos and more millions of pesos of annual maintenance.

Now, a good Open source-based procurement system can be implemented at just 30% of the cost, but can cover 100 to 1000% more in terms of requirements, sites and users. How’s that?

Okay, I don’t have to “bore” you with my occasional political rants and ramblings but as a Filipino citizen, I can’t help but voice out my thoughts on certain issues which affect me in some ways.

There are a lot of things the government have to do to make every Filipino live a decent life, and while we may not agree to everything the government do and say, it is our duty as good citizens to support good government programs and let the government know in our own little way what we like and what we don’t like.