When President Uhuru Kenyatta launched the Access to Government Procurement Opportunities (AGPO) programme a year ago, the excitement among business-minded women, youths, and the disabled was electric.
The programme sets aside 30 per cent of all purchases of goods and services by the government and all public entities for businesses owned by women, the youth, and the disabled.
It is a potentially far-reaching and revolutionary initiative. Thousands of youths, women, and disabled people stand to become economically empowered.
What is more, millions of jobs would be created, reducing the number of the idle and the incidence of crime and drug abuse.
Sadly, this seems unlikely to happen. For many women, young people, and the disabled, the past year has been a bewildering journey of heartbreak and frustration.
AGPO has turned out to be a cruel and sadistic mirage that has left them even poorer.
The reason for this goes to the heart of what bedevils Kenya today: Corruption.
While top officials at the Treasury and Devolution ministries — AGPO’s key policy-implementing agencies — have given their all to make the programme a success, the same cannot be said of procurement officers on the ground.
They seem to regard the programme as an infringement on their “right to eat”, a mere distraction from their normal practice of looting public organisations. To these officers, AGPO is a nuisance.
To frustrate enterprises owned by women, the youth, and the disabled from rightfully accessing business, the officers employ several time-tested tricks.
One common trick is the awarding of contracts that do not make any business sense.
One leading parastatal in the energy sector, for example, is reported to have asked several disabled businesspeople to go in person to its headquarters, deep in Nairobi’s Industrial Area, to collect a quotation for just five reams of A1 paper.
One disabled-owned business, after a lengthy and resources-consuming quotation process, got an order to supply pens worth Sh6,000. Yet another parastatal wanted to be supplied with just 500 letterheads worth about Sh4,000.
To appreciate just how frustrating this is, one must remember that in all public procurement, the invited businesspersons must first collect quotation forms from the procuring entity, canvass suppliers for the best prices, fill the quotation form and stamp it, return it in a sealed envelope to the procuring entity, and then wait to be told whether one has won the contract or not.
If one is successful, one must collect the local purchase order, purchase and supply the goods and have delivery notes signed, deliver an invoice, then wait for payment.
All that for business worth, say, Sh4,000. The time and resources one would have used will probably be in the range of Sh10,000 or more if one is wheelchair-bound.
Another common trick is disqualifying a bidder on technicality.
In one case, an elderly disabled contractor was disqualified from a major power-related tender because a lawyer had not certified one leaf in his tender documents of more than 50 pages.
Another one was knocked out because his documents did not show his business’s physical address despite the fact that his letterheads on the tender documents clearly had one.
But perhaps the most devastating trick is the simplest. To qualify for the AGPO programme, a business must be registered with the Treasury.
The main shareholder in the enterprise must be a woman, youth, or disabled person holding no less than 70 per cent of the shares.
To get around this, corrupt officers and their cronies have simply transferred shares in their old companies to their wives, mistresses, and children, making them compliant with the law and therefore eligible for AGPO.
The truly deserving people are being thrown the crumbs.
To salvage AGPO and restore hope to those who were meant to benefit, the government must move fast to address these concerns.
For this noble initiative to succeed, it must not be business as usual.
Mr Kimani is a national board member of the Disabled Business Owners Association and chairman of the Kiambu Persons with Disability Business Organisation. ([email protected])