Botswana's Tenderpreneurship Problem

1 million pula. That is how much an ablution block in one of the local primary schools, comprising of a meager 4 male and 5 female sections, will supposedly cost the taxpayer.  To provide some context, this translates to each single ablution section compartment, probably comprising of a shower and soap holder at most, costing an insane P111 111.11. You read that right. One hundred and eleven thousand, one hundred and eleven pula eleven thebe. For a shower compartment.

Unfortunately, this kind of absurdity is an all too familiar story for most Batswana. One does not have to look too far back to see another example of misuse of public funds at play. During the COVID-19 crisis when the government has been providing relief for citizens in all shapes and forms to minimize the socio-economic impact of the pandemic, there have already been several reports of irregularities in the tendering processes for the different products and services required by the government for that task.

From some of the food relief program tenders being given to friends, relatives, and associates of politicians to some suppliers who have been awarded tenders inflating prices of products and services being procured by the government, COVID-19 has shown that even in the midst of a crisis, corruption does not rest.

Tenderpreneurship, a term which is a portmanteau of the words "tender" and "entrepreneurship" and referring to a kind of entrepreneurship whereby the business model consists of securing government contracts to provide goods and services, has become a lucrative business for especially "well-connected" personalities in the country.

The idea is simple. Government needs a product/service. It cannot procure it itself so it needs a middle man to do exactly that. It puts up a tender for the procuring of that product service. Applications are received and vetted according to merit. Tender is awarded to the best applicant and they proceed to provide the product/service after which they get paid. This is of course how tendering is supposed to happen on paper but the reality on the ground is another story.

Political influence is rife in the awarding of tenders which then enables "well-connected" tenderpreneurs to receive most of the lucrative government tenders, leading to a barrage of side effects including but definitely not limited to sub-par products and services being provided for citizens and a whole lot of public funds gone down the drain. Listing the projects which have been either been severely over budget, delayed, and/or extremely subpar as a result of questionable tendering processes would require several volumes.

Solving the tenderpreneurship problem is going to have to start at addressing the root of the problem, the tenders themselves. It is bizarre how the national and local governments, already too big as they are, still do not have efficient and effective procurement departments and have to rely on tendering to provide even the most trivial of products and services. If they were providing these services themselves instead of utilizing middlemen in the form of tenderpreneurs, imagine how many public funds would be saved as a result.

Even if it can be argued that national and local governments cannot be able to procure all the needed products and services in their entirety themselves, the least they can do is to at least ensure that the vetting process for suppliers has some credibility, which has mostly not been the case hitherto. It is appalling how clearly inflated budgets for products and services like the aforementioned one million pula for an ablution block are supposedly vetted and eventually approved by authorities without any hesitation. What does that say about the credibility of the asset disposal boards who are responsible for the important and sensitive task of ensuring that citizens receive much-needed goods and services and that their taxes are not wasted in the process?

It is an open secret that Botswana has a tenderpreurship problem but despite the problem the fact that the problem has persisted for as long as they have been the concept of tenders, not much has been done to address the problem. The cost of such dodgy practices is mammoth and the taxpayers are the ones who have to bear the brunt both directly by having their taxes spent on such and indirectly by not receiving necessary goods and services all because of the incompetence and complicity in corrupt activities by authorities who never have to worry about being punished for their deeds.