The “baby steps” in mainstreaming sustainable public procurement in Ghana: A “double‐agency” perspective

Published date01 February 2019
Date01 February 2019
The baby stepsin mainstreaming sustainable public
procurement in Ghana: A doubleagencyperspective
Peter AdjeiBamfo |Theophilus MalorehNyamekye
Department of Public Administration & Health
Services Management, University of Ghana
Business School, Accra, Ghana
Peter AdjeiBamfo, Department of Public
Administration & Health Services
Management, University of Ghana Business
School, P. O. Box LG 78, Legon, Accra, Ghana.
The emerging literature on public procurement policy suggests that public procure-
ment may be leveraged to advance several public policy agenda. Hence, many
countries have reformed their public procurement process towards social and envi-
ronmental outcomes termed sustainable public procurement. These reforms have
often been launched in response to international initiatives such as the global
10year framework for action on sustainable consumption and production by the
Johannesburg implementation plan in 2002 and the Sustainable Development Goals.
Yet, empirical evidence on the drivers and benefits of SPP in developing countries is
still scarce. This gap is addressed with a qualitative case study of six public sector
institutions in Ghana. On the basis of elite interviews, this paper highlights barriers
to mainstreaming SPP in Ghana's public sector. We further advance the scanty
principalagency literature by establishing a doubleagency relationship in the context
of SPP, which depicts limited agency cases where principals lack the capacity to
defend their own interests.
The public procurement literature suggests that substantial amount of
public funds are spent on public procurement (Thai, 2001). Globally,
this constitutes about 1520% of national revenues, with the figures
from developing countries hovering between 20 and 70% (Thai,
2001; World Bank, 2012). Notwithstanding, most governments often
fail to apply due diligence in their procurement processes, which often
results in negative environmental and socioeconomic impacts,
corruption, and legal losses on government coffers (Hope, 2017;
Neupane, Soar, & Vaidya, 2014; Preuss, 2007). Taken together, these
consequences can culminate into a severe loss of value for citizens
and impede a nation's overall development. Hence, many countries,
including Ghana, have reformed their public procurement processes
towards social and environmental outcomes.
Contemporary public procurement serves as a tool for advancing
good governance and sustainable development through resource opti-
misation, improved project delivery, strengthened public procurement
systems, and stakeholder participation (Adjei, 2010; Preuss, 2009).
International reports argue that reformation of public procurement
can contribute directly to improving a country's business, investment,
and social environments(World Bank, 2012, p. 6). In response to
public procurement shortcomings and the global 10year framework
for action on sustainable consumption and production by the
Johannesburg implementation plan, the Marrakech Task Force (MTF)
was voluntarily formed in 2003. Led by the Swiss Government, its
members include Mexico, the Philippines, Argentina, Ghana, Czech
Republic, Norway, China, the United Kingdom, the State of Sao Paulo,
and the United States of America, as well as several international
organisations. With a framework developed from its periodic meet-
ings, the MTF seeks to stimulate sustainable public procurement
(SPP) practices among both developed and developing countries.
These efforts are further deepened by target 12.7 of the Sustainable
Development Goals (SDGs), which focuses on stimulating SPP
practices in accordance with national priorities.
What are the barriers of implementing SPP in developing
countries? Prior research has found positive effects of integrating
environmental and socioeconomic criteria into procurement practices
(Hall & Purchase, 2006; Preuss, 2007; Walker & Brammer, 2009,
2012). However, these studies focussed on developed countries
(Keulemans & Van de Walle, 2017)leaving a gap with respect to
the developing country contexts. Empirical studies and knowledge
Received: 12 November 2018 Accepted: 16 November 2018
DOI: 10.1002/pa.1902
J Public Affairs. 2019;19:e1902.
© 2019 John Wiley & Sons, 1of16
on the prospects, drivers for adoption, and potential impact of SPP on
the participation of small local businesses in developing countries are
essential because these resourceconstrained economies have high
levels of inequalities and climate change vulnerability (Karjalainen &
Kemppainen, 2008; Walker, Miemczyk, Johnsen, & Spencer, 2012).
The study adopts a qualitative approach with case studies from six
Ghanaian public sector organisations to illustrate the barriers
hampering efforts to mainstream SPP in Ghana. The paper draws on
the principalagency theory in its analyses of indepth interviews
The remainder of the paper is structured as follows. A conceptual
background to the study and the justification for the use of the
principleagency theory as theoretical framework is presented in
Section 2. Section 3 outlines the research methodology. The main
findings of this study are subsequently discussed in section 4.
Section 5 concludes the paper with implications for public procure-
ment policy and practice, the agency theory, and for future research
2.1 |Public procurement as a strategic public policy
Public procurement refers to the process through which public sector
agencies acquire public goods and services from third parties
(Neupane et al., 2014). It encompasses buying, renting, leasing, or
acquiring supplies, construction, and various forms of services.
It comprises inter alia a narration of requirement, selection, and award
of contracts that relate to obtaining goods and services by the govern-
ment for the welfare of citizens. Emerging literature suggest that
public procurement may be leveraged to advance several public policy
agenda (Grandia & Meehan, 2017). For example, Grandia and Meehan
(2017), from a multidisciplinary perspective, delineate the implications
of public procurement for achieving public value and illuminate its
strategic aspirations and attractiveness to policymakers, as it consti-
tutes a substantial fraction of government's expenditure (see also
Erridge, 2007). Unlike the private sector, buyers in the public sector
operate in a political market place with different incentives,
constraints, and with different opportunities for discretionary actions.
Therefore, they afford the opportunity to apply their procurement
choices towards a wider scope of public policy agenda (Grandia &
Meehan, 2017; Parker & Hartley, 1997). The World Bank (2012), for
example, notes that public procurement is interconnected with the
three main pillars of effective governance: enhanced delivery of public
service, value for money, and a supportive environment for private
sector growth. Parker and Hartley (1997), however, caution that
stretching the selection criteria to meet these several policy outcomes
has negative implications as it leads to vaguely specified contracts
with little contributions to achieving expected outcomes (see also
Patil, 2017).
Also, the public procurement practice is sometimes fraught with
inefficiencies such as undue delays, corruption, lack of transparency,
and disregard for social and environment impacts (Karjalainen, 2011;
Mawenya, 2008; Neupane et al., 2014; World Bank, 2003, 2012).
For example, the World Bank (2012) and Transparency International
(2011) argue that public procurement corruption is increasing globally
and particularly in developing countries. Public procurement corrup-
tion in subSaharan Africa particularly constitutes over 70% of public
contracts with a 30% price rise (Mawenya, 2008). This menace
hinders national development by weakening national institutions,
increasing business costs, eroding public trust, as well as discouraging
external investment (Hope, 2017; Neupane et al., 2014). From the
agency perspective, Kauppi and Van Raaij (2014) observe that the
inherent information asymmetries in the public procurement process
engenders opportunism due to the incongruent goals of actors.
Further, excessive delays in the payment process to contractors is
reported to be severe, which in Ghana's case, exceed 30 steps (World
Bank, 2003, 2017).
To address these problems, contemporary public procurement
policies have been reformed through decentralisation, digitisation,
increased emphasis on environmental and social outcomes, increased
spending visibility, and minimised information gaps in the process
(Klabi, Mellouli, & Rekik, 2016; Neupane et al., 2014; Preuss, 2009).
Other initiatives target value for money (i.e., economy, efficiency,
and effectiveness), achieved through prudent use of public resources
in the acquisition of goods, works, or services (Ibrahim, Bawole,
ObuobisaDarko, Abubakar, & Kumasey, 2017). According to Ibrahim
et al. (2017), value for money emanates from true compliance with
best procurement practices and rules that guide the specification of
pretender criteria, bidding, evaluation, and award and execution
criteria but not covert attempts to windowdressnoncompliance
(p. 381). Value for money also concerns an assessment of lifecycle
cost and quality of products or the evaluation of whether the
expected outcome of the procurement is satisfied. Klabi et al. (2016)
submit that these measures inform the government about the reputa-
tion of the supplier towards lowering the risk and cost of future
2.2 |Sustainable public procurement
Emerging public procurement literature contends that there is the
need to assess tenders beyond price criteriato also consider other
environmental and social criteria that control the production and con-
sumption behaviours of suppliers (Gelderman, Semeijn, & Bouma,
2015; Keulemans & Van de Walle, 2017). This concept, which is
termed sustainable public procurement, is defined by Brammer and
Walker (2011, p. 455) as “… the act of integrating a concern for
broader social and environmental impacts within procurement under-
taken by government or public sector bodies.The definition
suggests an act of expending public resources on products and
services that promote sustainable development tenets. In line with
this idea and for the purpose of this study, the concept is defined
as the considerations for longterm social and environmental impacts
of products while meeting the fundamental principles of public
SPP has become popular in light of the major adjustments in the
global corporate social responsibility (CSR) and supply chain debates

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