I have just returned from Johannesburg in South Africa where I attended the CIPS Pan African Conference. And while it was nice to have a couple of days in the sunshine, more importantly it was very interesting to hear in person some of the procurement initiatives and strategies being used on the continent.
Unsurprisingly, a lot of the current trends and challenges facing procurement are the same there as they are elsewhere in the world. The global economic situation is driving an increasing need for efficiency and cost control. Fears over food security and volatile raw material prices are driving the search for new approaches to usage and material substitution. And African governments, like their counterparts in the UK, are looking to use purchasing as a strategic lever to boost economic growth.
But one of the main things I came away with is there is a bigger need, and in some cases a bigger appetite, for formal and robust procurement procedures and policies. Open and competitive tender processes - which might be viewed by some as overly bureaucratic and cumbersome - can provide a valuable method to stop or at least identify problem cases. This is of course just a part of the solution to tackling fraud and corruption in Africa (and around the world), but as countries and the various levels of government adopt more formal approaches, hopefully the opportunities for bias and improper manipulation of procurement will reduce.
In the UK there is a desire to cut out bureaucracy and make procurement processes more flexible. But it is worth remembering that while it may frustrate, this rigidity can help to keep order.