One way the government has sought to address joblessness among the youth is designating 30 per cent of contracts at the national and county governments to them and other disadvantaged groups, including women and people with disabilities.
The Preference and Preservation (P&R) scheme came into being in 2013 to help the groups, hitherto marginalised in the issuance of the lucrative contracts, to access them. The government is the country’s single-largest buyer of goods, works and services, spending about 70 per cent of the Budget for this purpose.
As of December 2017, a total of 78,698 enterprises owned by these groups had been registered, pre-qualified and issued with Access to Government Procurement Opportunities (AGPO) certificates. Of these, 44,864 are youth-owned, while 30,326 belong to women and 3,508 to people with disabilities.
Compliance among procuring entities on the affirmative plan ranges between 18 and 22 per cent. Surprisingly, however, it has been declining. From 22.99 per cent in the 2015/16 financial year, it plummeted to 18.17 per cent in 2016/17, further dropping to 17.35 per cent in the first half of 2017/18 before rising marginally in the second half.
My research has revealed that the project is far from achieving what it was set out to realise. Many youth have told me they are confronted with hurdles in their bid to benefit from it.
Among the highlighted challenges is the lack of awareness among the target groups about the procedure for application for the contracts. This, coupled with complex procurement processes, shuts out youth who lack the capacity to undertake them, leading to low absorption of the quota.
Delayed payment for those who win the contracts has been repeatedly cited as another serious impediment — so serious that some small-scale businesses belonging to these categories of people are left in dire financial straits or collapse.
The worrying state of affairs emanates from the fact that such small companies are compelled to use up all their meagre resources to service tenders yet payment takes unduly long in coming. This is compounded by the fact that youth enterprises find it hard to obtain credit from financial institutions to service the contracts and run operations as they await payment.
Yet another hurdle is that some public institutions and state departments flout the law through failure to report on how the contracts are shared out.
There is an urgent need to operationalise the Preference and Preservation Secretariat, charged with registration, pre-qualification and certification of the individuals, categories of people or groups as provided for in the procurement law.
The secretariat will also conduct training and capacity building of the target groups, as well as provide technical and advisory assistance to procuring entities in the implementation of the preferences and reservations of tenders. Further, it will be responsible for monitoring and evaluation.
It is also time to re-engineer the AGPO portal to facilitate faster online application for certificates and permit verification to ascertain their authenticity. The portal will also be instrumental in ensuring timely access to information on available opportunities for the special interest groups while facilitating faster reporting of performance to enhance monitoring and evaluation.
Funding will also go a long way in bringing more youth into the programme and boost the absorption rate. Adopting local purchase/service orders (LPOs/LSOs) financing through affirmative funds can go a long way in resolving this. Furthermore, periodic circulars and letters should be issued to accounting officers pushing for prioritisation of payments to this category of people.
AGPO desks also ought to be set up at Huduma Centres to carry out registration at the county level. This will ensure that all the youth benefit.
Lastly, the standard bid documents should be simplified to ease their comprehension, completion and submission by the intended beneficiaries.
Mr Keter is a nominated MP for youth. [email protected]