It may sound odd, if not paradoxical, to tout the centralisation of services in a country where devolution has become the first name of decentralisation.
That notwithstanding, centralisation of procurement of goods and services still has its place, not just in government, but equally in the private sector.
Criticism of the practice has, of late, been directed at the Government Advertising Agency (GAA), an outfit established in 2015 to co-ordinate and manage government advertising, as well as the recent centralisation of the procurement of ICT supplies for the government.
While the acclaim is naturally in favour of decentralisation, Kenyans must give special attention to “shared services” in government, as opposed to general services.
For services that are shared across government, the amount of wastage of public resources and time through the duplication of the procurement by different entities of the same or similar goods or services from suppliers in the same market is significant. Harmonisation of procurement of shared services ensures efficiency, quality of goods and services and common standards and, importantly, guarantees better terms and lower costs because of discounts.
The massive overheads associated with thousands of staff in various government entities involved in the procurement of shared goods and services are substantially reduced following centralisation. That is besides centralised record-keeping and better control of inventory.
These are but just some of the merits of bringing the procurement of shared services under one roof.
In the case of GAA, it was the product of a Cabinet decision of April 22, 2015, amplified through a circular from the National Treasury, giving clear guidelines to government ministries, departments and agencies on how the new policy was to operate. The Cabinet directive purposed to centralise government advertising to serve two main functions.
The first was to reduce the government’s advertising spend, then estimated at more than Sh5 billion annually. The other was to ensure harmonised professional management of the advertising function in the government.
Although GAA faced teething problems (not in any way uncharacteristic of new initiatives in or outside government), the noble objectives of this policy cannot be gainsaid. Any attempts at subverting or abusing processes that may have compromised GAA’s effectiveness are faults that should be remedied but not used to kill a good idea.
Major steps are under way to restructure the GAA and position it to discharge its mandate more effectively. The measures taken, so far, are bearing fruit and the agency is in the process of settling its legitimate liabilities, besides putting in place best-practice mechanisms for better service delivery.
On the centralisation of procurement of ICT supplies, the policy was informed by the need for standardisation of the relevant goods and services to ensure economies of scale as well as ease in system administration and maintenance.
The consolidation of ICT services is not new. It began some 15 years ago with the provision of internet services to all ministries and departments in 2002. Internet services are now efficiently delivered to both the national and county government offices and departments in a much more cost-effective and economical way.
To unpack the notion of cost-effectiveness, the government now buys goods and services more cheaply. Due to the economies of scale, it buys computers at Sh98,000 apiece — half the previous price. The ICT environment in the government also will be standardised. This will be possible by having standard equipment to be used across the board. Genuine software and hardware will ensure system security and after sales warranty.
On tendering, where most attention rightly tends to focus, the government used open tender, which was advertised in the national media. Tendering is conducted in strict compliance with the law. It is competitive, transparent and open to all eligible bidders. The evaluations are undertaken by duly appointed multi-stakeholder teams and results posted on the ministry’s portals. This policy ensures that the public gets value for money.
Although the case for the centralisation of shared services has been made here, those charged with that responsibility should be diligent enough to prevent delays. They should be wary of factors that can make centralised procurement too heavy or complex for efficiency. Transparency and accountability must be visible and verifiable in centralised procurement of shared services and goods.
Ms Hirsi is the Principal Secretary, State Department for Broadcasting and Telecommunications. Mr Ochieng is the PS for ICT, Ministry of ICT