Monday, July 30, 2012

The NParks wayang - Problems with GeBIZ that everyone knows about but the auditors turn a blind eye to.

When the NParks Brompton bicycle story first broke, I daresay many had already guessed at what lay behind the procurement/tender fiasco. I am not referring here to the allegations of corruption, or the buddy-buddy relationships between procurer-approver-supplier. Simply, the GeBIZ system is kinda screwed up and pretty much every procurement officer is well aware of these problems and knows exactly how to navigate (read 'cheat') the system to get what they want. It is not as if the auditors don't know. They generally pretend not to know and are pretty 'satisfied' so long as the documentations are in order. Minister Khaw's mistake was his over-eager endorsement of the purchase of the bikes on the assurance of procedural and documentary 'correctness'.

All tenders need to go through the GeBIZ system, yet many of the small suppliers are not registered on GeBIZ. Therefore if the product depends on small suppliers, how do you open a tender on GeBIZ, and expect a reasonable response from suppliers? In the NParks case, what is the likelihood that bicycle shops will be registered on GeBIZ, and will be aware of the tender? Ultimately this will depend on some non-GeBIZ way of disseminating the tender information and hoping the suppliers will go into GeBIZ and tender. This non-GeBIZ way of information dissemination is already subjective and selective to only a limited number of suppliers. And therefore open to abuse.

Secondly, very often procurement offices already have a specific product in mind. This is not necessarily dishonest, but operational centres often have a preference for a specific product. Sometimes this is logical, but often they are not.This is not necessarily the cheapest, but is often perceived to be the most 'desired' product. What makes this product most desirable depends on many factors, most of which are not codifiable. In the laboratory for example, many researchers have preferences for certain branded products, names which they associate with reproducibility or reliability. If they open the tender for the equipment, they run the likelihood of being swamped with cheaper but less desirable products. And endless needs to justify awarding the tender to the non-cheapest tenderer. So what do they do? They word the tender in such a specific way that only one brand name matches the tender specifications. In the NParks case, the wording of the tender was so obviously directed towards a very specific product.

The above are without doubt 'bad practices' but superficially may be viewed as being procedurally 'correct'. I challenge any auditor to say that he/she is unaware of these practices but has not looked the other way in performing the audits.

Another problem contributing to this fiasco is the familiar end-of-financial year monkeying with the accounts. How many of us are unfamiliar with the regular message that comes down from senior management that there is left over money that needs to be spent? Rather than to return the money and risking a reduction of next year's budget, the instruction that comes down from senior (or very senior) management is to spend the money. It is under these circumstances that the most wasteful expenditure of public funds occur. It is under these circumstances that you see the sudden purchase of weird, expensive and poorly justifiable items. Perhaps 26 expensive Brompton foldable bikes?


Anonymous said...

Any better tender or procurement method over the GeBIZ system?

What do you think?

auntielucia said...

51 efeatmtGiga, u r so right re spend, spend, spend be4 the budget deadline. It happens in the private sector too!

Perhaps there should be a specific rule, esp where tax payers' money's concerned, for there to be no penalty in the form of any cutback in subsequent budget, if what had been sought and approved, hadn't been spent by the deadline.

Dancingbunny said...

You have said what was in my mind for the last 2 years I was doing GeBiz when I set up a laboratory from nothing to fully functional.

gebiz was a PAIN and I easily cried dunno how many times getting stressed out doing specs, awarding tender, giving justifications and making sure it is the lowest quote that meet specs and yes, some specific items are not easily found in singapore. There is a need to import and the importing takes time and we have to beat the time for year end financial closing, beat the time to have the items in before school starts, and yet people in the finance department take their own bloody sweet time to DRAGGGGGG the whole darn thing for weeks to pass the approval before we can open and close the Gebiz. I have endless quarrels with people who simply do not (wish to) understand the kind of equipment I need in the laboratories because they are not from life science. Even I explain, they pretend not to understand.

The best thing is?
I am suppose to be a LAB TECH assisting teaching. I am not a procurement officer, but I am tasked to do 2 people's job at one go with ONE paycheck.
Many a time I am answering vendors' emails till 1am, and I start work at 8am. Many a time vendors call my handphone and my company is not paying my bill.


gigamole said...

GeBIZ isn't all bad. In theory, the government e-procurement portal is the correct way to go, but the decade old system does have problems and deficiencies. I have never been convinced that there has been any committed review and improvements of GeBIZ since its implementation in 2000. And it's certainly not because they are unaware of the problems.

So people just manipulate the system and work around the problems, and as the NParks incident demonstrates, you can be procedurally correct but get it all wrong.

Seems like no civil servant wants be saddled with the massive task of revamping the system. So all look the other way.

Dancingbunny said...

Yes. We were always asked to feedback or give suggestions on existing systems, infrastructure of support or other various issues.

We did. Constructive ones. Not just plain whining or complaints. We explained things, really really explained some of the problems, issues concerning with the system because of inflations, different system of classifications etc...but yes, nobody wants to lift a finger...the best way out is to get out of the system if we cannot take it anymore. I did. I will never want to do any Gebiz procurement anymore. Not because the way of shopping is bad. But its rather the people who I have to deal with have no control over issues that surfaced and the issues will drag and drag and drag forever.

The thought of it still brings nightmare to me. its that bad. :(