Preparing a government tender is a nightmare. Those who do so have PhDs in paperwork. A thriving business sector can lessen the income gap between the rich and poor. And yet, the process to use opportunities to compete for government or SOE contracts is only accessible to a few.

Namibian laws that claim to help business grow are laden with overregulation and stifling bureaucracy. The rich, already-advantaged and ‘connected’ thrive in the existing procurement process. Everyone else drowns.

Understanding the 50-page bid documents requires flawless English comprehension, a law degree, accountancy courses, and a crystal ball. There are other hurdles in place that eliminate smaller companies that might have the skills and capacity to do the job.

While there should be a pre-bidding meeting, it should never be mandatory. Why should potential bidders from outside of Windhoek bear the costs of a trip to Windhoek? This requirement gives an advantage to Windhoek-based companies or those with travel budgets in tender bids. If a company does not attend the pre-bidding brief, that should be their choice and their risk.

The information from the bid meeting should be placed on line so all can access it or refer to it.

Stop the requirement for social security, ministry of finance and affirmative action clearances at the initial phase. It is not necessary at the outset.

The ministry of finance still has major record-keeping problems. Documents submitted years before are missing. Imagine being told in 2020 that a 2013 submission is missing? After a week of piling through old company records, the photocopy of the stamped document is found and the record is corrected. But a bidding week has been lost. The ministry’s error could disqualify bidders unfairly. This must be reviewed.

The same ups and downs exist with the social security good standing as well. For a tender bid clearance needed a year ago, it was given. For a tender bid clearance needed in 2020, records have popped up for someone who hasn’t worked in your company for 5 years and clearances are held up. These kinds of stories regarding record-keeping are rampant among tender hopefuls.

Rather than put aspirants for the opportunity for government or SOE bids through this nightmare, let the first round of bids happen WITHOUT the clearances. First, evaluate capacity, then collect the paperwork. Only those who are shortlisted, must then confirm their ‘spot’ on the list with clearances. Even the ministries involved with cheer for less demand for paperwork.

When we computerize properly, we can go back to the demand for all bidders to have these clearances. Let an online system provide social security members or tax payers access to their files. They can call up their account; file, pay, correct data, and print out their own good standing forms. Until we modernize, this requirement needs to be toned down.

Take note that the current bid documents are used for ALL bids. This means if an SME is bidding for a N$200,000 catering contract, they are using the same forms as the company bidding for a N$20 million equipment contract. This is wrong. Smaller tenders must be made easier. Divide the herd; create a simplified bid document for lesser procurements.

The procurement office should have a team of mentors on contract who can assist businesses through the bidding process.

Unless we get serious about government priorities, i.e., SME development, we cannot spread access to opportunities. We shall always have the tenderprenuers who might have inside information. We will always see the same faces; the same businesses who have bids in everywhere will have the advantage. The advantaged businesses that can hire lawyers, accountants and experts to bid for them will prevail. They will master the process and the paperwork, not necessarily the work to be done. Will the small but skilled guys ever have a chance?

This pandemic is lashing a Namibian economy that was already being horsewhipped by recession. Government must change its ways to address a unique, totally unprecedented situation. Open the doors wider. We must not be so rigid with regulations and rules that we strangle ourselves with our own rope.

Imagine this: the Titanic is sinking. Desperate passengers from steerage class are trying to get off the sinking ship. They are turned away from unused lifeboats in the vacated first class section. The rules say those boats are only for first class passengers. The stewards refusing entry to the first class lifeboats drowned together with the panicked passengers they were blocking. The empty, unlaunched lifeboats went down with the ship. What sense does that make?

Review and revise the paperwork demands for tender bids. Otherwise, we could go down with the Namibian ship while our financial lifeboats remain unused.