SMEs decry civil servants’ participation in gov’t tenders

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SMEs decry civil servants’ participation in gov’t tenders
SMEs decry civil servants’ participation in gov’t tenders

Africa-Press – Botswana. Local Small to Medium Enterprises (SME) have called for an end to public employees being able to tender for public projects, saying the practice leads to unfair advantages and corruption in the public procurement process.

At a Private-Public Dialogue held by Business Botswana, small business owners denounced corrupt practices by some civil servants during the public procurement process.

SMEs noted that since the repeal of the ban on civil servants participating in government tenders, they had struggled to compete for tenders against businesses owned by people already working in the government.

Tim’s Lock & Key managing director, Ivan Tim, said small businesses were being short-changed due to civil servants’ ability to participate in public tenders.

“This corruption in government is costing us a lot of money,” he said. “How can we compete against people that are already in the system? It’s very unfair to us.”

Other small business owners at the dialogue said allowing people that have privileged information on certain tendering processes to compete for the same tenders, places the average private business at a significant disadvantage competitively and leads to a naturally unfair business environment.

“Civil servants who own businesses tend to be lethargic in their service delivery to those that could compete with their own, further worsening the unfair business environment,” another entrepreneur said.

The Public Procurement Act of 2021 repealed a regulation that barred civil servants from bidding for government tenders. The repeal was geared towards allowing civil servants to be a part of citizen economic empowerment efforts, which they had previously felt excluded from.

While this repeal was met warmly by civil servants who said they now feel included in citizen economic empowerment, SMEs feel the decision is excluding them from economic empowerment.

Representatives of Business Botswana said they were perplexed why the government repealed the previous ban as the move had created a conflict of interest that only stands to hinder the development of private enterprise across the country.

Several senior government officials who attended the dialogue but chose not to be named conceded that they had noticed civil servants absconding from their government duties to tend to their own businesses.

According to Business Botswana, the government, in general, appears to be reluctant to hold an open dialogue regarding this matter as on several occasions, meetings scheduled between the private and public sectors have been suddenly cancelled by the government without warning or explanation.

Business Botswana CEO, Norman Moleele said there was a need for enhanced communication channels between the public and private sector to remedy any turbulence that may affect SMEs’ recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“With 78% of the businesses we represent being SMMEs, it is imperative that we seek solutions with the government that empower our members and allow them to function in the business space as efficiently as possible”, Moleele said.

Moleele added that Business Botswana has developed a private sector recovery programme with the United Nations Development Programme dedicated to ensuring that private business owners can return to the pre-COVID normality that they previously operated under.

However, he noted that the programme could only succeed with complete government cooperation, which has been a struggle to attain.

The CEO, however, did commend local government authorities in Hukuntsi and Mochudi for having “open and progressive dialogue” with the private sector to seek solutions for recovery and growth of private enterprise in their areas.

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