Time to teach buyers a lesson over bribery

7 December 2011
This Supply Management article regarding bribery and bullying of public sector purchasers in Western Australia failed to pique my interest at first glance. Does anyone even know what a camcorder these days is? Can’t an iPhone take its place? I felt a little sympathy for these staff, having to contend with these meagre bribes when their corrupt counterparts in the private sector are offered diamond necklaces for the wife, large cash deposits into Grand Cayman accounts and first class trips to Paris. However, corruption in public procurement does gain a lot more attention than that in industry. People tend to feel very indignant about the misuse of their taxes. It does seem a travesty to see your tax contributions misused on superfluous ink cartridges when it could be wasted on ill-conceived economic stimulus packages instead. On further reflection, how much of this sort of behaviour can truly be labelled corruption in any case? The whole incident smacks of a lack of experience and competence of junior staff, combined with inadequate supervision and mentoring, and further compromised by a lack of policies and procedures. Instead, the purchase of excessive amounts of cartridge toner - incorrectly specified and scoped - points more towards a lack of checks and controls expected in best practice procurement. Practices such as the technical and commercial evaluations of vendors, independent award of contracts by boards and clear policies for the ethical treatment of suppliers would have eliminated the window of opportunity for these buyers to be misled by bullying behaviour and inappropriate gifts. What is necessary here is not a corruption inquiry, but the establishment of some practices and procedures, solid training and sufficient guidance and mentoring to assist young purchasers in their journey through the oft-sordid world of supplier interactions. Claudine Swiatek is head of materials procurement at the engineering asset management firm Downer EDi.
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