The Challenges of Procurement Training in a Fragile Country: the Afghanistan Experience
When there is a US$7 billion portfolio exposure through over 50 Investment Project Financing projects in a fragile and conflict-affected context like Afghanistan, fiduciary antennas are surely to be up in the air. Procurement is often a high priority area for both government and World Bank authorities, particularly in situations where capacity constraints are identified as major cause for projects' delays, re-bidding or low participation of bidders. This had led to a dependence on external consultants for procurement administration in many projects.
To help tackle these challenges, the World Bank has supported procurement reforms and the professionalization of the National Procurement Authority (NPA) in Afghanistan, while also trying to develop local capacity in procurement.
That's where organizing procurement training becomes challenging given the security environment in Kabul where most of the project offices are located. Since the launch of the new Procurement Framework in 2016, a World Bank team made several unsuccessful attempts at organizing training programs that got cancelled due to evolving security situations. Two failed efforts, at the last minute and after all preparations were concluded, burned out the enthusiasm among team members and Government counterparts alike.
Considering the major difficulties of bringing in international experts into Afghanistan and given the high cost of sending individuals for training to other external programs, the World Bank team explored alternate venues that offered comparable low-cost transportation and easy connectivity for arranging training programs where participants from Government will have lower travel costs and easy access to visa facilities. The target was to train at least 100 government counterparts over a period of six months. The team developed a six-day long and custom-tailored training program on all key aspects of the Procurement Framework 2016, targeting mid and high-level officials from various projects. International procurement experts stationed in other south Asian countries delivered the training along with Kabul-based Procurement staff.
The first of a series of training was delivered in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, in March 2019, with 50 participants from different government entities and diverse background and capacity, such as project and procurement directors, and managers from implementing agencies.
"I have been to many international trainings on procurement, but never had anything like this training where everything was discussed in Afghanistan context. It was participatory and very joyful experience for me," said Ahmad Khalid Ahmadzai, Procurement Director, Afghanistan's Ministry of Mines.
In fact, 88% of participants found the overall quality of the training program very good or excellent; all topics covered very relevant to their current job; and most said they will be able to apply the knowledge in their jobs.
Participants also appreciated the mix of technical and procurement staff invited from the projects and emphasized the need for collaborative efforts from whole project teams for undertaking procurement strategy and defining the right procurement arrangements for their projects. About 40% of the participants wanted more time allocated for sessions. The overall cost per participant was about $1600, about one third of the costs for training in other countries.
Based on the positive feedback, another round of training was arranged in New Delhi, India, in May 2019, when another group of 50 participants attended.
Lessons learned from Dushanbe was used for the program in New Delhi by adjusting the sessions as relevant, and by adding more case studies.
While moving an entire training program to another country might look odd, the strategy adopted in the fragile and conflict-affected context in Afghanistan delivered multiple benefits.
These efforts helped build the capacity of over 100 procurement staff across various projects, and with substantial savings for the projects. The projects are putting into use the lessons learned from the training program.
Within the short time of receiving these trainings, projects have already improved the quality of procurement strategy documents. The efforts are also pointing towards more reliance on procurement resources based in Afghanistan, thus reducing the dependency on international and national consultants on tasks that usually a project team carries out.