Electronic Public Procurement in the Maltese Public Administration
Digitisation of processes in general across its member states’ Public Administrations has been on the main agenda at the European Union (EU) level for the past two decades. Public Procurement processes were not the exception. Indeed, the EU Commission has been pushing its member states towards the digitisation of Public Procurement. The drive behind this move aims to make public spending more transparent first and foremost, but also to increase the cross-border accessibility of Public Procurement, provide a more evidence-oriented culture with a strong audit trail of the processes, optimisation of the procedures and integrate both with market conditions while keeping abreast of technological advances. These processes foster better Public Procurement governance, lessen the risk of fraud and corruption and, ultimately, widen the market and the economy in general. Digitisation of Procurement is viewed as supporting economic growth, increasing job opportunities while facilitating access to Public Procurement to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). In fact, according to the EU Commission, Public Procurement accounts for around 14% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in the EU with over 250, 000 public authorities purchasing on behalf of their government in the three procurement categories: services, works and supplies.
E-procurement involves public buyers procuring through electronic means, from the beginning to the end of the whole procurement cycle. This involves, primarily, publishing contract notices online via e-notification and publishing all procurement documents for a Call for Tenders online giving e-access to tender documents. Furthermore, Economic Operators submit their offers electronically known as e-submission. The opening of offers is carried out on a pre-set established date and time, and is then instantly published for public view. The evaluation is also carried out electronically and finally the results and award notices are also published electronically. E-procurement can significantly simplify the way procurement is conducted, as well as reduce waste and deliver better procurement outcomes such as lower prices for a better quality by stimulating greater competition across the Single Market and beyond. Across the EU, public buyers who have already made the transition to e-procurement commonly report savings which may vary between 5 and 20%. Given the size of the total procurement market in the EU, each 5% saved could return around €100 billion to the public purse which can be spent on other projects for the public. The planned rollout of e-procurement in the EU includes also e-invoicing which is to be in place by November 2019. The deadline for Member States to roll out e-Submission is October 2018. Malta is way ahead of the mandatory deadlines established by the EU for the rollout of eProcurement.
In fact the Maltese Government has always been at the forefront of implementing a digitisation strategy that also brought a thorough reform of the Public Procurement sphere across its Public Administration. The Department of Contracts, as the sole central government authority, was the main catalyst of this ambitious reform. As early as 2011, the Maltese Public Administration started a radical rethinking of the public procurement process through procurement digitisation in preparation of the imminent publication of a set of new EU procurement directives. Directives 2014/24/EU on Public Procurement, 2014/25/EU on Procurement by entities operating in the water, energy, transport and postal services sectors and 2014/23/EU on the award of concession contracts were eventually published by the EU in 2014 and transposed into Maltese legislation in October 2016.
This perceived shift went beyond simply moving to electronic Public Procurement procedures and tools. It involved the re-evaluation of various pre-award and post-award processes meant to simplify Public Procurement. It also involved a massive effort towards the education about such a shift. One of the most substantial investments toward the success of this change were training initiatives involving both the Public Administration procurers and the Economic Operators. The shift towards electronic procurement never intended to deliver a drastic change overnight but rather to educate the people’s mindset, help them understand the benefits of this change and most importantly induce them to be proactive participants in this major milestone for the Maltese Public Administration. Since the inception of the ePPS, besides offering training opportunities to its Government procurers, the Department of Contractshas been delivering training sessions to Economic Operators, in collaboration with the Institute for Public Services which falls within the remit of the Office of the Prime Minister. Economic Operators may register to these weekly sessions to better familiarise themselves with Government’s e-Procurement platform. These workshops have always and are to date being held free of charge. So far, around 1400 Economic Operators have benefitted from this initiative.
The Maltese Electronic Public Procurement System (ePPS) published its first open procedure in 2011. The ePPS supports the whole procurement cycle from publication, evaluation and award done completely through the same portal. The introduction of the platform www.etenders.gov.mt revolutionised Public Procurement.
The ePPS was designed to support all the requirements within the EU Directives and is enhanced whenever required to keep up with changes both at EU level and locally. Since the publishing of the new Public Procurement Regulations, in October 2016, all public procurement in Malta estimated at €5,000 excluding VAT, was legally bound to be published electronically.
Since 2013, the ePPS has experienced a strong uptake and steady participation by Economic Operators. As graphically depicted in Figure 1, the number of economic operators has been on a solid increase hitting the 6300 registrations mark in May 2018. This number includes both Maltese and foreign economic operators.
The number of Calls for Tenders (CfTs) published through the ePPS, since its inception, has also been on the increase, even if the numerical values flactuate according to EU Funding seasonality. Figure 2 portrays clearly the gradual increase in the number of CfTs published through the ePPS by the Maltese Government since January 2013. By August of the current year, a total of 4100 CfTs have already been published on the ePPS.
Future ePPS developments include the integration and inclusion of various public procurement processes and documentation, within one single procedure. Forms and processes which are currently submitted or undertaken in electronic format, will now be fully digitalised and integrated in the main public procurement procedure through which Economic Operators submit their offers. Such enhancements include the submission of the European Single Procurement Document (ESPD) as part of the selection criteria, the requirements stemming from the Green Public Procurement (GPP) criteria and a National Compliance Certificates Register, and the integration of the e-CERTIS function, which is a guide to the different documents and certificates required from companies tendering for public contracts in any EU country.
The ePPS can be described as a success story and Malta established itself as a forerunner in this field. The success story does not end here, though. The Department of Contracts firmly believes that the progress in reforming this field with the incessant support of the central Government, will keep registering success for a better Public Procurement experience for public procurers and economic operators alike.