The public procurement process is often delayed for different reasons. Such delays may damage the Procuring Entity’s reputation and are a waste of scarce public resources; additionally, contracts are not awarded on time and this results in poor delivery of public goods and services.
The following are 8 common causes of delay in the public procurement process and what you can do to avoid them:
1. Delay in Preparing Technical Specifications, Scope of Work or Terms of Reference
Technical specifications, scope of work, and terms of reference are documents that describe what is needed, and should be clear enough to avoid confusing suppliers, contractors, service providers or the evaluation panel.
They are also needed to prepare the solicitation (bidding/tender) documents. And if they are not completed ahead of schedule, the procurement process is delayed before it even starts.
The reason for delay is usually due to lack of expertise in preparing these documents, or not realizing the extent of the information and research that may be needed to complete them.
Sometimes special expertise is needed to prepare the technical specifications, scope of work and terms of reference. If this is not taken into consideration, a huge delay is the result because of the period of time it may take to find or hire such a person.
To overcome this, it’s important not to overlook the need for special technical expertise to assist with the development of technical specifications, scope of work and terms of reference. Getting such expertise, if not readily available, may involve having to hire a person or team. This in itself may result in a procurement process which also needs to be taken into consideration to ensure hiring the needed expertise and getting the documents prepared in order to start the procurement process on time.
2. Failure to Start the Procurement Process on Time
This is a very common delay. You have an approved procurement plan and you have developed a procurement schedule, but it has been overlooked or not taken into consideration, so the procurement process begins later than intended.
To resolve this, it’s important to stay informed of the deadlines on the procurement schedule, especially the start date of the procurement process. You can use an electronic calendar, such as the Google or MS Outlook calendars, to set reminders of important dates on the procurement schedule.
3. Extension of Bid or Proposal Submission Date
The bid or proposal submission period may need extending, causing delay in awarding the contract. Some of the reasons are:
- Mistakes in the solicitation (bid or proposal) documents
- Prospective bidders request more time for submission and it is granted
- Poor response to invitation for bids or call for proposals
- Unforeseen event such as natural disaster, emergency situation, mass demonstrations, etc.
- Request for clarification results in an amendment to the solicitation documents, which requires an extension of submission period for bidders to take the amendment into account in their bids or proposals
It is difficult to plan for possible extensions of the bid or proposal submission date. But to avoid or reduce some of the instances mentioned, you must prepare a comprehensive solicitation document and make submission periods long enough to allow bidders ample time for bid preparation.
4. Delay in Opening Bids or Proposals Received
Bids and proposals have a set deadline for submission. If they are submitted late they should be rejected, unless the procurement rules or the solicitation documents state otherwise.
The opening of bids and proposals is usually a public event that should take place immediately after the submission date and time. Bidders often hand-in their bids or proposals on the date of submission and wait to attend the opening.
Unless the delay is caused by a catastrophic or other event that is not within the control of the Procuring Entity, it should be avoided at all cost because the integrity of the procurement process and the Procuring Entity are important to earning prospective bidders’ trust.
5. Delay in Starting or Finishing the Evaluation Process
The Procuring Entity organizes the evaluation process, but bids and proposals are evaluated by an independent panel of three or more individuals. So the duration of the evaluation process is not under the control of the Procuring Entity.
Sometimes one or more members are not available to start the evaluation process, and when it is started, they may be unreliable in their availability to continue due to other commitments.
A possible solution is to ensure personnel assigned as evaluation panel members are temporarily relieved from other duties so they can focus exclusively on the evaluation process.
It’s also important, when seeking evaluation panel members, to ensure they are available and committed to the evaluation schedule to avoid delaying contract award.
Another solution may be to hire independent panel members and ensure they meet the agreed evaluation deadline.
6. Delays during the Approval Process
Approval is required at various stages in the procurement process. It depends on the monetary value and complexity of the procurement requirement, and is stipulated in the procurement rules.
The approving authority may be different levels of tender boards such as central, ministerial and departmental.
This is a common cause of delay because tender boards usually have specific dates on which they convene, so procurements need to be scheduled accordingly in order to avoid delaying the process.
If the tender board meeting is cancelled or they don’t have enough time to address all issues, approvals are delayed until the next tender board meeting.
When procurements are donor funded, there may be need for donor approval at different stages of the procurement process.
Delays caused by tender boards and donors are difficult to control. So they need to be anticipated and considered during procurement planning and scheduling.
7. Delay in Contract Negotiations
Not all contracts are negotiated. Generally, goods and works contracts are awarded without negotiations because once bidders meet the administrative and technical requirements, the contract is awarded based on lowest reasonable price.
For more complex goods and works requirements, there may be negotiations before contract award. This has to be determined during procurement planning and scheduling, and clearly reflected in the solicitation documents.
For consulting services, there is usually negotiations prior to contract award. Negotiation is used to come to an agreement on issues related to methodology, personnel, and slight changes in the scope of work. Rates may be discussed if found unreasonable, but if the price is a factor in determining the winning firm, it would be unfair to other bidders to adjust rates.
Delays result if negotiations take longer than anticipated. The duration of contract negotiations is beyond the control of the Procuring Entity, so it should be conservatively determined during procurement planning and scheduling.
8. A Contractor, Supplier or Service Provider Challenges the Procurement Process
Contractors, suppliers and service providers are allowed to formally challenge the procurement process if they have evidence or reason to believe the Procuring Entity failed to comply with the procurement rules or if they feel they were unfairly treated or affected by the manner in which the procurement process was carried out.
This delay is also difficult to avoid. To reduce the possibility, it’s important to prepare solicitation documents that are clear and comprehensive, and to ensure the procurement rules and stipulations of the solicitation documents are followed.
Above all, effort must be made to build trust in, and create a positive impression of, the Procuring Entity, procurement officers and anyone directly or indirectly involved in the public procurement process.