CoST Afghanistan amplifies private sector voice in a bid to strengthen procurement

CoST Afghanistan has brought together figures from the construction industry, along with civil society, academia and the government, for a webinar on the challenges of doing business with the government. The webinar drew on the experience of the construction industry to explore how procurement could improve more broadly, and how the main factors restricting competition and efficiency could be overcome.

One of the key points emphasised by speakers was the need for widespread reform of the procurement system to create a more attractive environment for the private sector. Referencing the findings of CoST Afghanistan’s Second Assurance Report, attendees also shared concerns about low levels of competition and delays in payment to construction companies.

Discussing the government’s lengthy tender processes, Foman Forough of the National Water Affairs Regulation Authority said that this issue has discouraged private sector bids for projects. Abdul Momen Mansour from the Afghanistan National Development Company emphasised the need to focus on improving the initial stages of the project cycle, such as planning and design, in order to create a more business-friendly environment overall. This point echoes a recent impact story on CoST Afghanistan’s activities which showed how millions of dollars were saved through simple contract and design oversight mechanisms.

The Director of Policy at the National Procurement Authority, Abdullah Mohammadi, responded by outlining steps the government had taken to allay private sector concerns, including the forthcoming launch of an e-procurement system. CoST Afghanistan will use this webinar as a starting point for ongoing dialogue between the construction industry and government, with plans for two further events in the future. These will offer similar opportunities for concerns to be raised, and for the government to respond.

Sayed Ikram Afzali, Executive Director of Integrity Watch Afghanistan said:

“The construction sector has a fundamental role to play in improving the overall economy. Unfortunately, the government has dampened competition by establishing its own national development company, which has undermined competition and led to bankruptcy for some companies. Engagement like this (webinar) will help stakeholders find common solutions to these challenges and will help build trust between the government and private sector.”

Mr. Hamidullah Habibi, the Afghanistan Builders Association board Director, also talked about the challenges of bureaucracy for construction companies and said:

“Bureaucracy in the procurement of infrastructure projects is a major challenge for construction companies. This problem has reduced investor confidence in Afghanistan, and the government must now reform bidding and payment processes to prevent this in the future.’’

Stakeholder engagement under COVID-19

This event is one example of how CoST members are adapting their outreach and engagement within the confines of COVID-19. While originally planned as a physical event for around 100 people, the programme was moved online after physical restrictions were implemented and the number of attendees reduced to maintain internet connectivity. CoST Afghanistan has shared the recording of the webinar with the original attendee list to ensure they have the opportunity to engage with the key points, and as a next step, they will be asked to share their feedback through an online survey.