By Gift Briton

Keen to enhance participation of women, persons with disabilities (PWDs) and youths in government opportunities, the Kenyan Government in 2013 launched a landmark program that mandates all public entities to set aside at least 30% of their procurement opportunities to this group.

The Access to Government Procurement Opportunities(AGPO) program has proven effective in enhancing women’s economic empowerment and bridging the gender gap in economic growth, however, challenges still exist.

“Public procurement as a means to empower marginalized communities and special groups is a growing recognized means to combat poverty and promote inclusive economic growth. It is a substantial market and avenue for fiscal empowerment by securing a space for potential suppliers from marginalized groups,” Joan Akoth, Program Officer at The Institute for Social Accountability (TISA) said.

She was speaking during a TISA- Africa Freedom of Information Centre (AFIC) roundtable with policymakers on access to government procurement opportunities in Nairobi.

Joan Akoth, TISA’s Program Officer

However,  she noted that budget allocation poses a serious challenge to women’s participation in procurement opportunities, adding that during the 2020-2021 financial years only half of the funds allocated and intended for this target group (women, youth, PWDs) under AGPO were released from the National Treasury (Exchequer).

“Women-led businesses (WLBs) lost 50% of AGPO opportunities due to unactualized budgets. It creates a false impression that the women benefit more from the 30% reserved tenders yet in actual values it would be far less had 100% of what was intended been released.”

She also noted that the tendering categorization is somewhat discriminative as WLBs are usually allocated low-value tenders which have low-profit margins such as stationery, cleaning, and catering while high-value tenders such as construction and technology are dominated by men-led businesses.

Besides, Akoth observed that the WLBs were targeted for sexual exploitation by procurement agents, most of whom are men, thus making the women shy away from tendering opportunities.

Based on a study supported by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and carried out by TISA in partnership with AFIC and Open Contracting Partnership (OCP), she noted that corruption is a leading barrier to women accessing government procurement opportunities.

89% of the women surveyed in the study were asked to pay bribes, Akoth said, adding that some were informally told that they had won tenders but needed to bribe someone to secure the tenders. “In the event that they did not do that, they ended up losing those particular tenders to others,” she noted.

The government limits payment delays to a maximum of 60 days, however, Gilbert Sendugwa, AFIC’s Executive Director pointed out that pending bills remain a serious challenge for WLBs with some waiting to be paid seven years down the line.

This has led to some businesses collapsing while others have lost their lives from frustrations as a result of harassment from financial institutions, he said.

Sendugwa also noted that women in urban areas are benefiting more from government procurement opportunities than those in rural areas due to a lack of access to information on AGPO.

Additionally, the AFIC study found that the complex tendering process discourages women from competing for procurement opportunities. The WLBs interviewed observed that the process was burdensome and costly for new entities. The application is done both manually and electronically and requires technical knowledge to apply and prepare the bid requirement.

The study also finds that most of the WLBs had low loan credit score ratings and poor access to land and other high-value family level assets to facilitate access to credit and financing to service the tenders. Thus, they relied on informal sources such as loan sharks who charged more and harassed them in case of delays.

Additional reporting by Sharon Atieno