Too sexy for procurement reform? The World Bank hopes not

A World Bank-supported rural road project in Armenia. The multilateral development bank wants to professionalize procurement systems in development countries. Photo by: Vigen Sargsyan / World Bank / CC BY-NC-ND

Despite trillions of dollars at stake in government contracts globally, procurement reform seems to have a public relations problem.

The World Bank has tasked its new Governance Global Practice with professionalizing procurement systems in developing countries, by partnering with national ministries willing to take on the challenge. That is in part because the bank's procurement reforms include a commitment to work increasingly through country's own procurement systems. That can only happen if ministries are equipped to handle procurement for major development projects — and if they're convinced that upgrading their processes is worth the time and effort.

One obstacle: finance ministers don’t always see procurement as ‘sexy’, as one procurement expert pointed out at this year’s World Bank spring meetings. And in turn, when it comes to setting priorities, those same finance ministers struggle to sell procurement reform to their own colleagues.

So how does the World Bank propose to better market procurement reform to its client countries?

Following a presentation on World Bank procurement reform Thursday at World Bank headquarters in Washington, D.C., chief procurement counselor at the U.S. Agency for International Development Jun Jin asked presenters how they plan to deal with the difficulty of marketing a topic to which many governments don’t pay much attention.

“I know ministers of finance don’t necessarily look at procurement as ‘sexy’ and as something that they’re able to easily sell to their stakeholders,” Jin said.

“So I’d be curious, what’s likely to change? What are we going to see from the bank that’s really going to help deliver those results?” he asked.

Robert Hunja, director of public integrity and openness at the World Bank’s Governance Global Practice, confirmed that building up client capacity is the job of the new team. He added that the bank is spending a lot of time thinking about how to do this in the realm of procurement.

“It’s not so much about processes, but it’s about outcomes and positive outcomes,” Hunja said, explaining that the bank is formulating ways to talk with finance ministers about how robust procurement systems improve government performance and budget outcomes.

“How could procurement for example contribute to increased SME business and even lead to jobs? So that’s the kind of stance we are taking,” Hunja said.

What are some other ways the bank and other development institutions can market procurement? Let us know by leaving a comment below.

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    Jeff Tyson

    Jeff is a global development reporter for Devex. Based in Washington, DC, he covers multilateral affairs, U.S. aid and international development trends. He has worked with human rights organizations in both Senegal and the United States, and prior to joining Devex worked as a production assistant at National Public Radio. He holds a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University and a bachelor’s degree in international relations and French from the University of Rochester.