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Under The Microscope

Rather than a liability, scrutiny of public procurement can be seen as an advantage


April 23, 2014
by Francois Emond

[April 2014 print edition]

Do you feel that public procurement professionals are constantly under the microscope, with scrutiny coming from the public, politicians, senior management or even from our suppliers? If you feel that’s your day-to-day reality there are two ways that you can deal with it. As the expression goes, you can view the glass as half empty or half full. That analogy applies to the perception of public procurement as well.

Procurement processes are often questioned and most of the time those questions relate to perceptions. Was the procurement process done properly and strategically? If the answer to these questions is not a convincing “yes”, the next step is to discover whether procurement professionals were involved in the process. If they were, were they involved soon enough to be able to ensure that strategic issues were addressed?

Unfortunately, most of the time the answer is no. However, this observation becomes a great opportunity for us to take our profession to another level by raising the awareness of the value we can bring to the process. We can support our internal customers in defining their needs so that their goals are met. We can help ensure that the process is as transparent as possible and stands the best chance of working in an open market, therefore optimizing competition and keeping costs down. We can do this all in compliance with the various regulations specific to our organizations.

More than ever, Quebec has seen its public procurement practices placed under scrutiny. The provincial government has created the Commission d’enquête sur l’octroi et la gestion des contrats publics dans l’industrie de la construction, often referred to as the Charbonneau Commission. Testimony from the stakeholders who’ve spoken to the commission demonstrates various aspects related both to the tendering process and contract management. Collusion among bidders has been mentioned several times during testimony and has been of major interest to the Quebec public but also to the Canadian public procurement community who is watching closely the commission’s evolution.

Is it possible to completely eliminate the risk of collusion in public procurement? Probably not.  But are there ways to minimise that risk? Definitely yes—procurement professionals can help to achieve that goal by defining a strategy that will minimize the risks of collusion. Contract duration, ensuring open market conditions, bonding requirements, awarding method and so on are all elements that help define a proper procurement strategy that may lead to minimizing the risk of collusion. Others within an organization might not necessarily see these factors as critical as we do. That’s why we can bring added value to the process.

Some may see the results and recommendations of bodies like the Charbonneau Commission as a threat to our profession, fearing that increased regulation may reduce the scope of the value we can bring in a process that will be more complicated. What’s most likely to occur is that politicians and senior management from public agencies will want to see a line drawn between the users of goods and services and the suppliers who provide them.

This is where the threat becomes an opportunity for public procurement professionals to step up and demonstrate the value we bring and the importance of our profession.
François Emond is the executive director of the Canadian Public Procurement Council and can be reached at femond@cppc-ccmp.ca. The organization is the leading voice for professionals involved in public procurement in Canada. Members of the CPPC are public agencies coming from all government levels. You can visit the CPPC website at www.cppc.ccmp.ca.