Public Procurement Month launched, citizens choose quality ahead of price

One in two citizens of Serbia admit that they know almost nothing about public procurement, but more than 80% would agree to have fewer kilometers of roads built, provided they were of better quality, or to purchase fewer public transport vehicles, if they bring less pollution for the environment. A view that the lowest price should not be the key criterion, but rather the quality of selected products, works and services, is held by four fifths of bidders.

This was shown by the opinion survey on public procurement conducted by NALED, with the support of the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida), whose results will be presented during July as part of the "Public Procurement Month" campaign. The campaign is launched by NALED and the association "Serbian Bidders" on the occasion of one year since the implementation of the new Law and e-Portal for public procurement. During the campaign, which was also supported by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) within the project "Public-Private Dialogue for Growth", all bidders, contracting authorities and the expert public were invited to point out problems, challenges and possible solutions for more transparent and fair procurement procedures through the website

One in four bidders does not trust that the procedures are fair, and almost half do not meet the defined conditions, hence is not surprising that the majority has not participated in any open calls in the past three years. Better control, transparency and application of criteria other than price would motivate them to be more active. On the other hand, the contracting authorities say that they do not use the quality criterion more often, because they do not have a model that would serve as the basis for procurement, they believe that such procurements are riskier or point out that they are not trained enough to organize them.

- Institutions and public companies spend more than 440.5 billion dinars a year on procurement and they should spend taxpayers' money on the highest-quality products and services, but in as much as 90% of procurement, the only criterion is price. The goal we advocate is better control of the implementation of contracts, whether the value of the procurement was subsequently changed and whether the procured products or performed works were in accordance with what was offered. The ultimate goal is to strengthen trust in the system and foster competition, which is one of the lowest in Europe in our country, with only 2.5 bidders per tender, or as much as 55% of procurement with only one bid. We want the criterion of the most economically favorable bid to be represented in at least 30% of procedures by 2023, and to raise the average number of bidders to 3.5 - says Ana Ilić, Good Governance Director at NALED.

The new Law on Public Procurement stipulates that all procedures starting from mid-2020 will be conducted exclusively electronically through the new Public Procurement Portal. 62% of bidders and as many as 97% of purchasers are satisfied with the new regulatory framework, and most of them are also satisfied with the quality of the portal.

- Two thirds of bidders know that procurement is now conducted online, and as many as 90% believe that the portal has contributed to improving the efficiency of public procurement. However, they want to further improve transparency and simplify procedures in order to stimulate higher participation in the procedures. In the first six months of the new law, 70% of tenders were suspended because there were no bids. In addition to building trust in the procurement system, through this project we also want to work on further improvements of the portal and to facilitate the participation, especially among small and medium enterprises - says Jasmina Markovic, president of the association "Serbian Bidders".

During the Month of Public Procurement, round tables will be held with bidders and purchasers, as well as a round table on the so-called green procurement, presenting in detail the research results and the initiatives for further capacity building of all participants for compliance, greater share of environmental and socially inclusive procurement, as well as improving control and protection of bidders' rights.

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