The Lectern: Now THAT's procurement reform

A participant attending the executive education course I'm teaching at Harvard is a senior official responsible for a procurement reform effort in Nigeria, initiated by the previous president and (hopefully) supported by the new one. Nigeria loses billions of dollars a year in inflated prices and non-performance in procurement deals in which bribes and other corrupted measures determine the winner. The reform effort involves establishing some basic competition principles, and it requires — at least until some reasonably honest system is established — that procurements over a certain value be vetted by a central board in the Office of the President. (The participant is a senior official on this board.)


There are, as one might imagine, a considerable number of wealthy and powerful people who liked the procurement system the way it was before these efforts. The participant explained that his office is not only located in the Office of the President on an organizational chart but also physically, so it can have access to the same security forces that protect the president. Officials in the office who go out to the field to check whether work under a contract has been performed — the equivalent of contract managers in the United States — often travel with armed guards.


One thing this story reminds us of is how lucky we are in the United States to have a procurement system in which honesty can almost always be taken for granted. It gives us a chance to focus on what, in a Nigerian context, would be seen as further refinements — but of course refinements that make the difference between "just OK" and excellent.


I asked this official how the office can have any chance to succeed and what made him willing to take this job in the first place. He thinks the office has a chance to succeed if it continues to have the support of the Office of the President, as well as the the Nigerian media, nongovernmental organizations and international organizations such as the World Bank. He took the job, he said, because he cares about the future of his country.

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