ONE OF THE BIGGEST CHALLENGES I face is to convince some of those who matter that it is possible to deal in Billions WITHOUT ANY CORRUPTION. I don’t blame them. Corruption has become so pervasive that if and when it is absent, one tends to disbelieve!
So what does one do? It is said that transparency helps. Ostensibly, transparency ensures that the rationale of everything that you do becomes visible to everyone so that they are able to see that the decisions were arrived at on the basis of laid down rules and parameters – and not on any personal whims or favors. On top of that, making one’s work transparent by itself forces one to act clean. The mere thought that others are able to see, acts as a deterrent.
So at USF (Universal Service Fund) Company we try our utmost to keep things transparent and above board:
- The set of rules used are the ones available in public domain – the Public Procurement Regulatory Authority (commonly known as PPRA) Rules.
- Wherever these rules fall short (no set of rules can cover every eventuality), the bidding terms and conditions are elaborated, well in advance. It is considered important that bidders are not confronted with any surprises.
- All bidding documents (standard terms/conditions, service specifications, any special conditions and even the templates of the contracts to be signed by the winning bidders) are posted on the website from where these are accessible to everyone. However the exact geographical co-ordinates are not posted on the website. These are provided to bidders who register themselves.
- In almost all cases USF does not specify which technology the Service Provider should use to deliver the desired service (Technology Neutrality). In exceptional cases where some technical specifications must be given, then standards defined by International Telecom Union (ITU) are used.
- All projects/procurements are advertised in at least 2 prominent national Newspapers – English and Urdu. Additionally the Ads are also placed on own and PPRA websites.
- All questions received from the bidders – and their given answers – are shared with all registered bidders. Later these are also posted on the website so that everyone knows exactly what was asked and what were the replies given.
- Bids are accepted, at the announced bid-submission date/time, in presence of all bidders and the major contents of the bids (especially bid-bonds) are checked. This ensures that each one of them knows exactly who is bidding and if any bid is incomplete.
- Only LOWEST bidders are awarded contracts. Even the Board cannot change that. In case it is already declared that there would be more than one winner, all have to match the lowest bid otherwise they lose out.
- At the conclusion of every bidding, the bid evaluation summary consisting of bidding process, it’s history and the bidding result is posted on the website for everyone to see.
It doesn’t stop with culmination of the bidding process:
- After signing of the contract 20% mobilization advance is given to the successful bidder, but only after getting an irrevocable bank guarantee of double the value of the advance.
- Project time-lines are divided into “milestones” and payments are released only on completion of milestones. To check completion of work at each milestone, Technical Audits are conducted by independent (third party) Technical Auditors, as well as by USF Co. experts.
- Technical Auditors are appointed in the same transparent manner, through competitive bidding, among technically qualified firms. Records of these biddings are also posted on the website.
- In case of completed projects, any penalties imposed on account of delays or other lapses, are also posted on the website.
There have been a couple of instances where the failed bidders – actually two – expressed their reservations. One of these was a telecom operator and the project was large. So the bidder was allowed to submit his reservations directly to the Board, who checked and ruled in management’s favor. Both bidders continue to participate and, as always, lose sometimes and win sometimes!
Not to take the credit away from a truly “dream team” of USF Co., the processes in place are such that if ever one of us tries to indulge in any corrupt practice, it would not be possible to hide it. And if one would still try, remember USF Co. is audited every 6 months – 9 Audits so far and not a single audit objection. In any case we would not be spared by the fund contributing telecom companies – keep in mind the cut-throat competition among themselves with billions at stake here. On the contrary, they all seem to have developed complete confidence in USF processes – that these are fair and free of any corruption.