The World Bank is not just reviewing its contracting policies — it’s also integrating its procurement team into a broader “global practice” that will focus on governance issues.
Jim Kim, president of the Washington, D.C.-based institution, highlighted the new direction in an anti-corruption speech on Thursday.
“The World Bank Group will be creating a single pool of technical experts in rule of law, public sector, financial and state management, and public procurement,” said Kim. “This global practice on good governance will become a major player in the anti-corruption effort for years to come.”
The reorganization reflects the bank’s evolving view of procurement, and especially procurement for bank-financed projects, as a key element of wider governance efforts.
“Rather than just looking at procurement in isolation, we’ll be having those broader discussions with other people in the unit about opportunities for broader public service reforms, and I think it will be a much more integrated service,” Christopher Browne, World Bank chief procurement officer, told Devex.
Those country-level reforms will be critical to the way the institution operates in the future, as it plans to rely more on client country systems for the procurement of bank-financed projects.
The World Bank estimates that borrowing countries spend several trillion dollars on public procurement, and government purchases can account for up to 30 percent of a developing country’s gross domestic product, according to some estimates. While World Bank funding makes up only a tiny fraction of that money, the bank sees it as a critical entry point for reform. After all, if an agency can learn to spend the money well — or so the argument goes — perhaps it will spend its own money well, improving government services overall.
Browne sees the new global practice as a positive alignment of the bank’s ongoing procurement policy review and President Jim Kim’s broader reform efforts. The global practices aim to make expertise and knowledge more widely shared across regions and sectors in order to better position the financial institution as a “solutions bank,” in Kim’s words.
Specifically, the governance global practice will integrate teams that were previously separate, including the public sector management, governance and anti-corruption, procurement, financial management, social accountability and justice reform teams.
“In the past, we kind of competed a little bit with each other, just because of the way the organization was set up,” said Browne. “Putting it all in one unit creates more opportunities for integrated solutions.”
The move suggests that the World Bank — considered the biggest donor worldwide — is embracing the increasingly widespread notion that procurement is more than just the purchase of goods, works and services, but that it plays a key role in efforts to curb corruption and improve governance around the world.
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Paul Stephens is a Devex staff writer based in Washington, D.C. His coverage focuses on Latin America and World Bank affairs, as well as Washington's global development scene. As a multimedia journalist, editor and producer, Paul has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Washington Monthly, CBS Evening News, GlobalPost and the United Nations magazine, among other outlets. He's won a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting for a 5-month, in-depth reporting project in Yemen after two stints in Georgia - one as a Peace Corps volunteer and another as a communications coordinator for the U.S. Agency for International Development.
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