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According to the News Agency of Nigeria, former Minister Alhaji Bala Kaoje has said that corruption in the country’s public sector procurement process accounts for over 70% of the government’s total budget.

Kaoje, a former Minister of Sports and Youth Development, also said that corruption in procurement has “affected the efficiency of public spending and the opportunities to improve quality of lives of Nigerians”. Clearly, if the 70% figure is anywhere near the truth, that must be true.

He was speaking recently at the induction of new members and fellows of the Chartered Institute of Purchasing and Supply Management of Nigeria (CIPSMN) in Abuja. Now we believe – and please, readers, do correct us if we are wrong – that this organisation is not linked to CIPS (the UK headquartered Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply).

It is a well-established and very genuine organisation, but we have to question why many years of attempts to professionalise procurement in the Nigerian government sector by CIPSMN and indeed CIPS itself don’t appear to have worked, if the Minister is correct.

Is corruption just too well embedded, at too senior a level? If that is the case, then no matter how hard procurement professionals try, they perhaps cannot overcome entrenched corruption at the highest levels. Or are the procurement professionals involved themselves, and complicit in the problem?

The Nigerian Public Procurement Act of 2007 tried to establish better processes, in order to guard against corruption, but 10 years on it cannot be working if the Minister is correct. But he also identified other issues. He suggested that “The eligibility criteria for tendering in Nigeria is too cumbersome and it eliminates lower income earning contractors and suppliers. It kills the middle class in the society and only the big time contractors and suppliers who have the resources to meet up with the stringent laid requirements can compete”.

So perhaps in an effort to tighten up processes, Nigeria has ended up excluding smaller potential suppliers and playing into the hands of large firms – who maybe also find it easier to “influence” decision makers, let’s just say. Those issues are not unique to Nigeria of course; even countries like the UK are still struggling with how to get more SMEs involved in public procurement.

We also should not be complacent and think that the UK, the US or other developed countries are free from corruption. But if the situation in Nigeria is anywhere near as bad as Kaoje suggests, it is a miracle the country functions at all!

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