Ivory Coast to Clean Up Contracts as Untendered Deals Jump

Ivory Coast is attempting to clean up the awarding of public bids, placing the regulating agency under the oversight of President Alassane Ouattara after the number of deals given without tenders jumped.

In the first three months of the year, 57 percent of the amount spent in public deals was awarded without public bids, compared with 40 percent last year, Non Karna Coulibaly, head of the National Public Procurement Regulating Authority, said in a July 23 interview in Abidjan, the commercial capital.

“The more direct awards of public contracts there are, the less transparent and efficient the system is,” Coulibaly said. “What should be an exception is the norm. It’s a wrong signal to give to investors.”

The world’s biggest cocoa producer is trying to boost investments as it recovers from a violent five-month crisis sparked by a disputed presidential election in November 2010. After contracting 4.7 percent in 2011 following the crisis, Ivory Coast’s economy grew 9.8 percent in 2012 as the West African nation spends on infrastructure including roads and power generation. Expansion this year is projected at about 9 percent, according to the Finance Ministry.

Public deals were worth 415 billion CFA francs last year ($833 million), more than double the amount spent in 2011, Olivier Kossonou, general secretary of the regulator, said. That will rise this year, he said, without giving a figure.

The authority was created in 2009 and started operating in 2010. In the past three years, it’s ruled 62 times and had 12 public contracts worth 120 billion francs annulled, Coulibaly said.

Procurement Department

“Until 2010, no public deals had been subject to legal proceedings in Ivory Coast,” he said. In May, the agency was moved to Ouattara’s office from the Ministry of Finance, where it didn’t have “enough room to manoeuvre” as the ministry’s public-procurement department is in charge of the government deals, he said.

The authority dismissed as unfounded an appeal in May from a group led by CMA CGM SA in relation to a bid won by Bollore SA to run a second container terminal at the port in Abidjan.

Last March, the authority ruled against a decision by the finance and transport ministries to cancel a bid won by Roissy, France-based Groupe Europe Handling SA for a contract at the Abidjan airport. The decision to annul the bid was unfounded, according to a statement published on the website of the authority.

“Is Ivory Coast credible to attract investors if we can annul a bid without any reason?” Coulibaly said. The authority “has sometimes faced pressure from ministers” against whom it’s ruled, he said. “Some ministers mistakenly think our decisions are personal matters. We don’t have a culture of questioning a minister’s decision,” he said.

“Many people violate the procedures on the grounds of the emergency to rebuild the country,” Coulibaly said. “But let’s not confuse speed and haste.”

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