The Importance of Citizens’ Engagement in Public Procurement Bidding Process at a Commune/Sangkat Level
May 15, 2021
Written by: Tol Chhourkimheng, a graduate with a Bachelor's degree in Education from The Royal University of Phnom Penh
Edited by: Heng Kimkong, a Visiting Senior Research Fellow at Cambodia Development Center and a PhD Candidate in Education at The University of Queensland, Australia
(Photo Credit: Joint Procurement Monitoring Committee (JPMC))
Have you ever wondered where the budget for building public schools, hospitals, roads, and other public infrastructure come from? Do you know the public procurement bidding process? Have your village chiefs ever informed you about the public procurement bidding process in your commune/Sangkat?
This article will shed light on the procurement bidding process and explain why citizens’ engagement in this important process is crucial to ensure transparency, accountability, and integrity of the bids.
Types of Public Procurement
According to the commune/Sangkat Fund Project Implementation Manual, procurement is the process of acquiring and finding goods, construction projects, services or other consultative services through the process of bidding. The public procurement falls under three categories: a construction project, service project and purchasing order. First, the construction project refers to the construction of public infrastructure such as pagodas, schools, hospitals, irrigation systems, roads, etc. Second, the service project is any activity that aims to provide support to achieve a specific project goal such as human resource development, community organization, and small construction. For example, creating the diversified agriculture support project helps to support citizens’ living conditions. Third, it is the purchasing order which aims to buy materials to support the operation of other projects to achieve the projects’ goals. For instance, buying a water pump machine helps the citizens to move water from water sources to support their agriculture.
Article 3 in the Sub-Decree on the Financial Management System of the Commune/Sangkat stated that “The budget constitutes the legal act that appropriates and authorizes commune/Sangkat revenues and expenditures on an annual basis. The commune/Sangkat fiscal year starts on January 1 and ends on December 31 of the same year. The budget must include all commune/Sangkat revenues and expenditures regardless of their origin or nature. The commune/Sangkat budget must reflect spending priorities emerging from the commune/Sangkat development plan.” Each year, the government allocates funds to the commune/Sangkat councils who will use the allocated budget in relation to the priorities of their commune/Sangkat development plan.
The Procurement Bidding Process
Before the bidding process takes place, the commune/Sangkat councils make an announcement about the bid(s) at least 14 days in advance. The announcement is posted on the information board in the commune/Sangkat halls. The village chiefs then provide the information about the bids to the citizens in the target villages. In the process, the local authorities utilize as many methods as possible to spread relevant information to the citizens. In this period, private companies can process their proposal for the bid.
During the bid, the procurement bidding committee is formed comprising three people, including the commune/Sangkat chief and two elected members of the commune/Sangkat councils. At the beginning of the bid, the committee specifies the information about the bid to the participants. The authorities then open the bidding box for the private companies which have between 30-45 minutes to submit their proposals, and the procurement bidding committee identifies the bidders in the secret room. If there is no secret room, the procurement bidding committee can request the participants to leave the room for a while or they can find any quiet place nearby. In the secret room, no one but the procurement bidding committee can see the price. This is to ensure the transparency and accountability of the process. In some special cases, the three members of the committee can request for the clerk to join. The committee then releases the results of the selected private companies with the lowest bidding price. It is worth noting that, there must be more than two private companies to process the bid, and to secure the bid, the private companies must comply with the guidelines outlined in the commune/Sangkat Fund Project Implementation Manual.
After the bid, the successful private company can begin their work. During the construction period, the citizens play an important role in observing the quality of the construction and ensuring whether it is relevant to the proposal submitted during the bidding process or not.
Why Citizens’ Engagement in the Procurement Bidding Process Matters?
The citizens’ participation in the procurement bidding process is vital since it contributes to the transparency, accountability, and integrity of the bids. When they engage directly with the bidding process, they help to reduce corruption that may be committed by the private companies and the authorities. Moreover, as the budget for public procurement mainly comes from citizens’ tax, it is crucial for citizens to follow up and ensure whether their commune/Sangkat spends the budget effectively and efficiently. Through my work experience, I have witnessed the fact that the procurement bidding process has changed for the better from time to time through the citizens’ engagement. The authorities and private companies have strictly followed the procurement bidding guidelines, resulting in a fair amount of transparency, integrity, and accountability with the budget expenses.
In a democratic country, citizens’ participation is extremely vital since it reflects the voice of the citizens. The citizens might raise their concerns, questions, priorities, needs, or ideas and be part of decision-making for their community development. Therefore, they need to be responsible and independent. They should have ownership of their community, which helps to reinforce their rights, power, and resilience.
According to a book on Good Governance published by the Ministry of Interior in 2013, participation in making and implementing decisions is one of the nine elements in good governance. The citizens’ participation is essential since the authorities can collect and analyze all the information about the citizens’ needs and suggestions before making a decision.
I conducted an interview with Mr. Puth Kolka, a specialist in good governance on March 5, 2021. He said:
Citizens especially youths have to take part in the procurement bidding process at their commune/Sangkat because they are accountable for their community development due to the fact that the budget for the development comes from the citizens’ tax or donation, and they are the leader of their community and country in the future; especially they are the role model and active citizens who represent other passive ones. By participating in the bidding process, it will propel the local authorities, policymakers, and lawmakers to be more accountable and pay more attention to citizens’ needs.
I conducted another interview with Ms. Mon Sotheara, a youth in Kompong Thom province. She said the following:
According to my participation in the procurement bidding process in my commune, I have observed that citizens’ participation contributes to the transparency, accountability and quality of the bid since the private companies dare not to corrupt or use any tricks during the bid. The citizens’ participation helps to ensure that the private companies follow the commune/Sangkat Fund Project Implementation Manual strictly. Additionally, the citizens are the owners of their community, so they have rights to be part of the decision-making in their community to ensure the public budget is spent effectively. Finally, as I am one youth in my community, I realize that what the citizens want the most are good governance, accountability, integrity, and transparency, so I encourage all citizens and youth to engage in the procurement bidding process in their commune/Sangkat because all those public procurements come from our tax.
Thus, the citizens have their rights to participate in the procurement bidding process because those budgets for commune/Sangkat development come from their tax. Moreover, the citizens’ engagement in their commune/Sangkat development tends to ensure the transparency, accountability, and integrity of how the public budget is utilized.
Challenges of Citizens’ Engagement in Procurement Bidding Process
Based on my personal and work experiences, the citizens face a few key challenges in participating in the procurement bidding process. First, the information-sharing from the authorities is still limited. The local authorities mostly post the announcement on the information board in the commune/Sangkat hall. However, most citizens normally do not visit the commune/Sangkat hall so they are not aware of the bids. The lack of information causes the lack of participation from the citizens in the bidding process.
Second, the citizens are busy with their work and cannot attend the bids since their commune/Sangkat conducts the procurement bidding process on working days. They may also believe that their absence does not necessarily have any effects on the bidding process; however, this is a misunderstanding because they leave all the responsibilities to the procurement bidding committee while they do not get involved as responsible citizens.
Some private companies still cheat during the bids. For instance, they use various tricks to get in the bids such as bribing other small companies to put higher prices, bribing the authorities to help them when opening the bidding box, asking their relatives to role play as private companies, etc. All of these have happened to both the private companies and the authorities.
To encourage the citizens to actively participate in the procurement bidding process at their commune/Sangkat, the government has to raise awareness of the importance of the procurement bidding to the citizens. In addition, the authorities have to guarantee that the citizens obtain sufficient information about the procurement bidding process. There are diverse platforms that the government can use, especially through social media such as Facebook, Telegram, etc. That is the obligation of the authorities to spread all necessary information to their citizens to ensure the transparency and accountability of the bidding. The citizens should also be encouraged to access the website of the National Committee for Sub-National Democratic Development (NCDD) Cambodia (https://ncdd.gov.kh) as the announcements of all procurement biddings in Cambodia are published on that website.
Meanwhile, the citizens have to realize that the procurement bidding process is not only the authorities’ obligation and responsibilities but also theirs. The budgets for all the procurements come from the citizens’ tax, so the citizens have their rights to know and make a decision that fulfills their needs.
Article 30 of the Sub-degree on the Decentralization of Powers, Roles, and Duties to Commune/Sangkat Councils published in 2002 states that:
Every commune/Sangkat resident can attend every Commune/Sangkat Council meeting but cannot vote. Commune/Sangkat residents can ask the commune/Sangkat chief or councilors questions at the meeting of Commune/Sangkat Council in accordance with the internal rules and regulations for the meetings of Commune/Sangkat Council.
Similarly, Article 31 reads: Every commune/Sangkat resident can put a written suggestion or complaint to the Council and the latter is compulsory to respond to the complaint or suggestion. Any suggestion or complaint that the commune/Sangkat chief can deal with within his/her competence, he/she shall do it and shall inform the residents of the response and shall report to Commune/Sangkat Council at the next meeting. Any suggestion or complaint that the commune/Sangkat chief cannot deal with within his/her competence, he/she shall include it in the next meeting of the Commune/Sangkat Council. Commune/Sangkat chief shall inform the resident of the response by Commune/Sangkat Council.
Based on these Articles, the citizens can join every Commune/Sangkat meeting, and they can file a complaint or make suggestions to their commune/Sangkat councils if they find any irregularities or any issues happening during the bidding process. The commune/Sangkat councils have to find solutions and responses to the citizens. By raising concerns, complaints or suggestions, the citizens can ensure that the authorities will work better and follow the guidelines of every step of the procurement bidding process. This helps to reduce or eradicate any irregularities that may happen during the bids.
The citizens’ engagement in the procurement bidding process is absolutely essential because it contributes to the transparency, accountability, and integrity of the bids and reflects the active role of citizens in a democratic country. Furthermore, the citizens have their rights to participate in making a decision for the development of their community. With their active engagement in the procurement bidding process, the authorities will prioritize the pressing needs of the citizens, leading to effective and efficient budget expenses. I strongly urge youth and all citizens to actively engage in the procurement bidding process in their respective community/Sangkat. To promote sustainable development, the authorities need to collaborate with the citizens and encourage them to take part in examining the procurement bidding process. Togetherness brings development!
*This blog is produced with the financial support from the European Union and The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency through Transparency International Cambodia and ActionAid Cambodia. Its contents do not reflect the views of any donors.