International Conference on Public Procurement and Innovation in Africa a Success

International Conference on Public Procurement and Innovation in Africa a Success

The inaugural International Conference on Public Procurement and Innovation in Africa (PPI 2023) was hosted by the National Research Foundation (NRF) in partnership with Stellenbosch University’s African Procurement Law Unit (APLU), at its head offices in Pretoria, and concluded on Wednesday, 15 November 2023.

A first of its kind in Africa, the conference attracted about two hundred experts and specialists from the multi-billion Rand procurement sector eager to engage on policy instruments, programmes, and systems fit for public procurement as an innovation policy tool. The attendees, both in-person and virtually, heard from procurement and innovation experts from both Africa and other parts of the world.

“Procurement accounts for massive expenditure in South Africa with Government spending almost R1 trillion annually, accounting for 12% of GDP. Therefore, the potential of public procurement as an innovation policy tool is immense,” said Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation, Dr Blade Nzimande, in his speech at the 15th Annual South African Innovation Summit in September 2022, noting the role of public procurement within the innovation compact as part of the Decadal Plan to implement the White Paper on Science, Technology, and Innovation.

In his conference welcoming address, Chairperson of the NRF Board, Professor Mosa Moshabela, said PPI 2023 was intended to, among other things, create procurements and tools fit to leverage each Rand spent across Africa’s science system. “We at the NRF understand that it’s important to explore all options that can help us achieve maximum value for money when it comes to public funding and expenditure in our pursuit of our mandate. When there’s less funding to go around, each and every Rand that we have needs to go further,” said Prof Moshabela.

 “We feel the obligation to ensure that our procurement is optimal as we continue to support research and innovation even under difficult times,” he added. “There’s an obligation on us at the NRF that, in pursuit of our core mandate stipulated in the NRF Act, we have to explore ways in which procurement beyond the NRF itself can be leveraged. This includes ensuring that other public entities that are also tasked with similar mandates, including research and innovation, can also access the tools for procurement to ensure that they can also optimally fulfil their mandates. It is about serving the ecosystem as a whole.”

NRF Chief Financial Officer, Mr Bishen Singh, stated “The NRF has firsthand experience on the interface of innovation and procurement. It is, therefore, in our interest to explore procurement methods and approaches more suitable for the science system. The NRF plays a key role in the National System of Innovation, in steering research through its mandate of funding researchers and students; providing access to National Research Infrastructure Platforms; and science advancement. It thus follows that the NRF is keenly interested in all instruments in support of unlocking science and technology, driving innovation and commercialisation of research.”

“In realising its mandate, the NRF expends significant public funds, inter alia by way of public procurement, requisition of goods and services, including significant expenditure on infrastructure mainly through our national infrastructure platforms, added Mr Singh. “The NRF is thus keenly interested in exploring the linkages between public procurement and innovation as part of its core mandate. This includes focusing on approaches to public procurement by the NRF as well as entities and organisations that the NRF collaborates with and likely partners, furthering commercialisation stemming from innovation-driven projects. The question then is how we can best procure the goods and services necessary to support research and innovation. What methods and approaches enable us to deliver on such? Is our regulatory framework enabling?”

Some of the procurement concepts that dominated the conference were the transactional and relational models. The transactional model was described as one that fostered once-off engagement between a procurement entity and a supplier. The supplier’s only aim in this set-up was to secure payment and not to formulate relationships that could, in future, result in innovations that address an entity’s challenges. This approach is necessitated by the current procurement legislation and other issues that were evident during the recently concluded State Capture Report.

APLU Director and conference organiser, Prof Geo Quinot, said, “South Africa’s public procurement is based on the transactional model. Evidently, this is not an approach of public procurement that aligns well with systems of innovation paradigm. Put differently, our conceptual model of public procurement is not a good fit for the use of public procurement as a demand-side instrument in innovation policy.”

He added, “If we’re to use public procurement as an instrument in support of innovation, there are in, my view, a number of adjustments that we will have to make in how we conceptualise public procurement. That is, we have to adjust our conceptual model of public procurement towards a stronger relational model.”

South Africa’s Public Procurement Bill was also another point of interest raised at the conference. Introduced in the National Assembly on 30 June 2023, it intends to create a single framework to regulate public procurement across State entities. It became apparent during the conference that science institutions will make a case for innovation to feature strongly in the final public procurement legislation.

DSI Deputy Director-General, Imraan Patel,commended the conference for combining local and international expertise. “I think that combination will really help us. The second thing is that it’s very action oriented.”

He added, “I look forward to the NRF’s report detailing with the recommendations from the conference. I’m quite confident that the diversity and richness of the conversation will benefit (us) as the Ministry and the Department.”

NRF Head of Supply Chain Management, Mr Ron Grace, said “The NRF has plans for another international conference on procurement in 2024 and that will be on the topic of methods and specifications. We’re not sure that anybody else in the world has had such a conference, or whether there is an authoritative book on either of those two topics. This will be seminal, and hopefully we will have our first booklet guideline for each of those two.”

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