Frank Arko-Tharkor Writes: To Sole Source Or Not To Sole Source? That’s The Question!

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The author is a professional Chartered Quantity Surveyor. He heads the Commercial Management function for Railway Track Delivery and with over 15 years’ experience in the UK Construction and Railway industry. He holds MSc in Construction Management from Birmingham University and MSc in Construction Law from University of West of England. He is passionate about transparency in Public Procurement, Risks and Opportunity Management, and maximising margin/profit in Construction projects.

Frank-Arko TharkorA view from afar.

Should I go? and shall I stay? Between them lies the challenge of migration. A line from the book “A Home From Home” by George Alagiah keeps ringing in my head and has been a question for most professional Ghanaian migrants living in far away land but keeping a close ear to happenings in the motherland.

Adding my thoughts, thoughts from a reasonable and experienced view point me thinks…there’s a fundamental question which the stakeholders alike fail to realise and even if it’s realised we fail to discuss in-depth. Maybe out of expediency or naivety.

This is what I want to explore in this piece.

This article will not delve into the interchangeable use of Sole Sourcing or Single Sourcing in our parlance, a quick google search will provide the answers on definition which broadly comes down to semantics but there’s a difference.

In the Ghanaian discourse, this term has been used interchangeably but that’s not the issue. What I aim to discuss is the rationale behind these procurement exercises carried out by various public departments in the country.

These are public money we are dissipating left, right and center. And there doesn’t seem to us (at least those from far away) that people understand the procurement ethics and guidelines as well as the parameters within which sole sourcing should and must take place.

Nana Addo on 25th September 2016 posted this on his Facebook wall “The procurement of most roadworks has mainly been by sole sourcing since January 2009 when the NDC-led government took over the administration of this country, inspite of being in an environment where expertise for construction and maintenance of roads and related structures is in abundance…”. He further stated that Sole Sourcing will be the exception and not the norm as was the practice in the previous government.

For clarity purposes, the procurement department in the various ministries need to educate the wider Ghanaian public on what factors they consider when deciding whether a contract or procurement activity should be sole sourced or not. This will erode the impression that sole sourcing exists only to appease government affiliates, financiers and the like.

The honest truth is that when all proper guidelines are met sole sourcing should in fact be a cost saving exercise rather than the reverse.

In my experience over the past near couple of decades where I have practically been involved in procurements activities and negotiations in the United Kingdom these are my guidelines and acceptable parameters within which Sole Sourcing should take place. It should be in fact the exception and not the norm.

      1. Specialist Contractor or Specialist service provider – That the design, expectation or client (Ghana Government) requirement is so bespoke to the extent that only one contractor can undertake the works or have the required expertise to undertake the works. This consideration clearly means when we open up tendering activities, and invite every tom, dick and harry, the exercise ends up in futility and more expensive to government as well as waste of time to the potential contractors who will not have had the chance of winning in the first place. Under this, one can wrap in expert professional services as well.
      2. Bespoke design for safety and compatibility – This becomes an acceptable consideration for a Sole Sourcing activity when by and large the specific product has been designed specifically to meet certain criteria, where that criteria can only be supplied by a specific contractor. A typical loose example is where your Cabin Air Filter for Toyota Camry needs to be replaced, you don’t go to Nissan to get a similar model (even though some do), but the point is, you go to Toyota to get the right part, in such instance Nissan cannot complain that you didn’t give them the opportunity to replace your air filter. In larger procurement exercises, you’ll expect that this is what happens, the procuring officer needs to clearly define and have a business case to justify the reasons for such decision.
      3. Time – This is another acceptable sole source consideration but has been debated over the century particularly due the fact that so much delays occurs during the procurement activity where hitherto if one had gone through the normal open or competitive tendering approach one would have secured and sourced the items competitively. This route sometimes breeds corruption therefore should be used very infrequently.

A clear business case to justify the need not to go beyond the expected delivery date is required in this instance. Poor planning is not an excuse.

Where the date for the ‘items’ to be in use cannot be extended and money is not an issue, then TIME becomes a considerable factor. For example, due to occurrence of natural disaster an emergency shelter needs to be procured as soon as possible, safety and wellbeing is at critical stage. Instances, like these, it is acceptable to go down the Sole Sourcing route.

However, where there’s failure of stakeholder to carry out proper planning to ensure demonstrable value for money as well as use the competitive tendering route, TIME is no excuse to consider Sole Sourcing.

One of the failures and public distrust in the Procurement arm of government is the perceived secrecy with which the procurement department operates. I believe the department can do itself a huge favour by publishing the guidelines and parameters within which specific public interest procurement activities were carried out.

This needs to happen before the question is asked so as to disabuse the minds of perceived corrupt practices, unless of course the latter is true.

The driver for all procurement activities should be value for money for the tax payer. After all, it is tax payers’ money the president has been taxed to disperse appropriately.