Improving Public Management and the ICT Industry in Macedonia through e-Government Applications
Increasing efficiency and transparency of the Macedonian public sector is one of the main objectives of USAID/Macedonias five-year e-gov Impact Project. The use of a transparent and open online tendering process is one of the innovations the project is bringing to Macedonia. The project makes extensive use of its webpage, www.impact.org.mk to help build a case for transparency in the procurement process.
Implemented by the dot-GOV/Internews, the e-Gov Impact Project has the mandate to develop and implement e-Government applications in the Republic of Macedonia for public institutions. e-gov Impact is designed to strategically solicit the Macedonian private sector in development of dynamic software applications for public institutions.
Paying Attention to Relevant Legislation & Real Needs of Users
After having identified the application, a System Description is developed, which determines the software needed, followed by the procurement of this software. However, the development of the software is only a part of the work required to implement a new e-Gov application. The relevant legislation also needs to be checked to make sure it allows the usage of information technologies (IT) for the specific application, which is not always the case. The legislation on public procurement is an example of this situation: the legislation foresees only exchange of paper-based information. To have an e-procurement system in operation amendments to or derogations from a number of articles in the law must be adopted.
The e-gov Impact Project always searches for solutions that will incur as few amendments as possible to the existing legislation, otherwise the amendments will become far too time-consuming to get through in a reasonable time period, and the application would also be blocked from usage for unforeseeable time.
The end users also have to be properly identified, such as possible vendors that would use a new e-procurement system. These end users need to be duly informed about and trained to use the new system and are given the opportunities to gain this information. Without an awareness of the end- user's needs and capabilities, the Project would be creating white elephants instead of functioning e-Gov applications with willing and interested users.
When a creative e-government application that could be could be useful to the Macedonian society has been identified by the Project, this idea is presented the idea to the relevant authority in order to stimulate their interest. It is not possible to force an application on someone not wanting it. When an agreement is reached, this is often documented through a formally signed Memorandum of Understanding, normally on the request of the recipient.
A few key persons from the recipient organisation are engaged for active participation in the drafting of the System Description. This is extremely important to ensure the recipient feels engaged and committed to the final implementation, and to insure there are no surprises once the application has been developed.
The drafting of the System Description is also used to enhance the application. There is one example where the recipient initially only accepted a rather minor application. During the work we managed to successively add more modules and ended up with a very comprehensive application.
Invitation to Bid
A formal Invitation to Bid is produced. This term is used rather than a Request for Proposals since the modalities for the software are already specifically defined through the System Description. The Invitation to Bid contains information about which companies are invited to bid - primarily specifying their nationality- the time schedule and all the formalities bidders must observe. It also includes a description of our evaluation process.
There are only two criteria to evaluate, quality and price, but it is nevertheless a rather complicated process. The right balance between price and quality is important. Furthermore there are several quality aspects to take into account such as the quality of the bid, the reference objects the bidder should list and of course the estimated quality of the proposed software. These different aspects are given different weight depending on the importance given to the individual issue. Each quality group is given points in three different grades, acceptable, medium and high quality and is not calculated in comparison with the other bidders.
The requested remuneration, however, is given strictly in relation to the remuneration requested by the other bidders; most points to the lowest price followed by a gradually decreasing scale.
Before points are given each individual bids are checked to ensure they meet all the formal requirements. Only bids that meet all the formal requirements proceed to the second phase where points are given. A basic quality is already requested as a requirement as such. This is the reason why points are given for acceptable quality. If the quality wasnt acceptable, the bid would have been disqualified already before points are given.
We must always be aware of the fact that giving points for quality is a rather subjective assessment. Consequently two project staff are individually assessing one specific criterion at a time. Once this is done, a meeting with the entire evaluation team is held where each member of the team informs about the points given. When there is a difference in assessment on a specific criterion, the arguments are raised and a common understanding within the team is developed through this discussion.
The recipient organisation is not invited to participate in the evaluation of the bids. e-gov Impact has to strictly follow the USAID Rules and Regulations. Although the Invitation to Bid should adequately reflect these formalities we do not want to end up in a situation where the recipient authority would prefer a software developer the e-gov Impact project does not rate well based on the application through the process described above. Furthermore there is always a risk that there could be personal relations between the local authorities, being represented by their IT staff, and the software developer that we do not know about and thus can not take steps to avoid.
Impact Website used for Q&A
All tenders are published on the Impact webpage and can be downloaded after a simple registration. Questions are accepted, normally until one week before closing of the tender. Questions must be submitted in writing and are printed on the webpage together with the answers. Though this process we make sure that every potential bidder always has the same information.
Completed and Ongoing tenders
The project has completed this process for one tender on e-procurement for the City of Skopje and is in the middle of a second tendering process for a software application to support the Civil Servants Agency to recruit new staff. The second tender will increase the ability of men and women from all social, cultural, or economic groups to learn of civil service jobs and to apply for them on a timely basis, no matter where they are located in Macedonia.