Ana Đurnić, Public Policy Researcher at Institute Alternative (IA) spoke about public procurement practices in Montenegro weekly newspaper Monitor.
1. How do you comment on your organisation’s latest public opinion survey findings, according to which 71% of citizens don’t know what public procurement means? What does that tell us?
Ana Đurnić: This finding is quite worrisome, especially if we keep in mind that compared to 2015, this number has almost doubled. In 2015, when we have conducted a similar research, the share of citizens who did not know what public procurement are was 37%. This year’s data of 71% of uninformed citizens increases further when this group is combined with those who provided incorrect answers (e.g. “import and export of goods”) and those who mentioned “corruption”, “money laundering” and “abuse of office”. These negative terms should be interpreted more as an attitude towards public procurement procedures in Montenegro rather than awareness of the concept.
This indicates that public procurement are a massive bureaucratic complicated process that citizens simply do not understand. And it must not be so. Public procurement make a significant part of public spending, they are paid with citizens’ money. Public procurement are not much different from going to the market – a situation that probably every citizen of every country could easily relate to. In public, however, public procurement are mostly being presented as a great enigma, which suits the Government perfectly. When there is very little or no public engagement, there is a plenty of room for abuse and malversation of various kinds.
A few days ago, we published an infographic to explaining public procurement, comparing it to shopping. We are hoping that it will help citizens to better understand these bureaucratic processes. I believe that this, among other things, is necessary in order to reduce abuses – greater citizens’ awareness about public procurement, greater interest, and thus greater public control. When you know that everyone is watching, you take good care of what you do, right?
2. The year of 2019 notes the highest public procurement spending and the lowest competition intensity ever since the first Public Procurement Law started implementing. How would you explain why this information should be alarming for the average Montenegrin citizen?
Ana Đurnić: As a rule, low competition intensity means low quality of procured goods, works and services that are being procured, and automatically a higher prices. Or even simpler – if only one seller sells cherries, 1 KG costs about 4 euros. If you love them, you have no choice but to buy from that one seller, even if they are not of a highest quality. But as more cherry sellers appear on the market, the price drops and the choice grows. The final result is that you will end up buying tastier cherries while spending less money. Of course, provided that all cherry sellers participate in the market under the same conditions.
It is similar in public procurement – the more bidders participate in tenders, the greater are chances that the state will procure better quality of goods, services and works at a lower prices. But the precondition for that is equal conditions for all bidders, which is not always the case in our public procurement system. This is exactly what the 2019 data which you mentioned shows us.
3. What is your comment on the recent statement of Jelena Jovetić, Director General of the Directorate for Public Procurement Policy within the Ministry of Finance, that, according to the European Commission’s TAIEX peer-review mission experts, the Montenegrin public procurement system is one of the most stable in the region? What could be the counter-arguments to this claim? The fact that, with the abolition of the Public Procurement Administration, Montenegro became the only country in the region without an independent state body to monitor public procurement, could only be one in a row…
Ana Đurnić: Experts have repeatedly mentioned in the same report that Public Procurement Law was in the Parliamentary procedure at the time of their mission and numerous problems that they noticed should be resolved by the adoption and application of the new Law. They also stated that this situation made it “extremely difficult for them to provide detailed recommendations” for improvement.
The fact is that they did notice problems in our public procurement system, and stated in the report that there are challenges that still need to be faced, as well as plenty room for improvement.
Although this Law was adopted a month after the expert mission, its implementation has not begin yet, and bylaws are still under preparation. Only in the next few years of implementation, we will be able to see if the Law will really meet expectations and solve existing problems or whether it will create new ones.
However, since 2015, with the exception of the amendments to the Law on Public Procurement from June 2017, Montenegro has not had so many problems with the legal solutions themselves, as with the implementation. We have seen that, for example, urgent procurement in the last period have been abused to procure something that was not really urgent, and that all of the control instances failed to map and process those abuses. We have witnessed situations where good legal solutions were somehow “twisted” through poor bylaws, and that through implementation, they lose even more meaning.
Considering very dynamic processes over the past few years – several amendments to the Law, introduction of new procedures, changes in institutional and personnel set up, variations in the average number of bids per tender and the expenditure, etc. – STABLE is not exactly the word I would use to describe public procurement system in Montenegro.
Author: Andrea Jelić, Monitor
Article was originally published in weekly Monitor, and online version is available on the link.