The trend for professionalising supply chain management in the private sector is slowly reaching the public sector in Africa but still rarely appears anywhere near the top of development agendas. This despite the fact that, in many developing countries, public procurement accounts for over 50% of GDP, or considerably more where the private sector is small.
Historically, procurement and supply chain management have been undervalued and viewed as a process rather than a professional function. With the realisation that effective supply chain management plays a critical role in ensuring funds are well used, value for money in the delivery of basic services is achieved, and transparency and accountability is assured, the value of professional supply chain management needs to be recognised. How will this happen in countries where procurement is viewed as an “add-on” to other careers?
The wave of legal and institutional reforms to public procurement across Africa over the past few years has certainly focused attention more firmly on the question of capacity building. Many universities are subsequently providing pre-service training in supply chain management which is beginning to instil an early appreciation of the value of the function.
In the health sector, where the issues are more acute, major programmes to combat diseases such as HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis have highlighted the importance of strong procurement and supply chain due to the critical need for regular access to medical supplies. The World Health Organization identifies equitable access to medical products, vaccines and other technologies as one of the six building blocks to a well-functioning health system. The traditional approach to provide expensive in-service supply chain management training to doctors and pharmacists so that they can add this on to their day job is slowly changing but more needs to be done to raise the profile of supply chain management in health institutions.
This trend towards institutional reform in the public procurement sector is not focused solely on health. Procurement training is increasingly available at all levels, from basic introductions to new procurement procedures to academic courses run by universities. Crown Agents has worked with the governments of several African countries to ensure that their procurement capacity building strategies are delivered. Our long expertise in supply chain management and procurement reform and our ability to understand the local environment enable us to work with procurement authorities across Africa. In Ghana for example we helped to develop a whole programme of professional development that covered short, medium and long-term requirements. We partnered with the Institute of Management and Public Administration to implement the short-term plan which was based on training an estimated 25,000 people including procurement staff, tender committees, the private sector and oversight institutions addressing the cross-cutting nature of procurement. We also teamed up with tertiary education institutions to develop the medium and long term training which included a bachelors level degree course in procurement.
Professionalisation is not just about training; it is about transforming the view of the profession itself to ensure a local supply of qualified new recruits in the future. Securing professional accreditation validates and upholds the importance of the supply chain management role. In Botswana for example the Public Procurement and Asset Disposal Board is seeking accreditation of its training materials both nationally and internationally after Crown Agents helped it to develop a series of procurement training modules and completed a training-the-trainers course prior to building capacity in its procuring entities.
Many countries are even establishing their own national professional bodies as membership of international professional institutions such as UK Chartered Institute of Purchasing and Supply and Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport expands significantly in Africa.
In the health sector there are also a number of initiatives that support the strategic role of supply chain managers. Crown Agents has provided technical support and is an active stakeholder in ‘The People That Deliver’ initiative which promotes workforce excellence in supply chain management.
Building supply chain competence and promoting and valuing supply chain management as a professional career can make a positive impact on a country’s economic development and its people’s lives.
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