June 9, 2010

Bidding for World Bank Financed Project: An Exercise in Futility

Any company or organization that has submitted a bid for to a large organization, especially when the funding comes from international sources, is aware that the results are often decided before the RFP is even drafted. The Request for Proposal (RFP) is generally designed so that only a pre-determined bidder can meet the requirements. This does not only happen in Africa. We have seen this occur even in the US and Europe. I remember a seminar for Federal government contractors in the US during which the main speaker said that “if you’re not 70% sure that you will win, don’t bother to bid.”

Usually though, there is some pretense that this is a real RFP and that all bidders have a chance. This way, they can justify awarding it to the “pre-selected” company by showing that X number of companies responded but none met the technical requirements.

I remember finding this out the hard way, working round the clock for weeks to finish a proposal on time, getting the bank guarantees, audited financial statements to respond to a very complex proposal. When it became clear that from a technical and financial standpoint our proposal was the best, they simply cancelled the process. When the new RFP came out, we did not meet the administrative requirements. :)

Still, even when we know we have little or no chance, we sometimes respond anyway. The process is important for our team to go through for practice and from a marketing standpoint, our company name should come out from time to time. So, when we recently saw a notice in the official newspaper for an RFP from a government owned agency for a system we have lots of experience with, we decided we would bid.

This decision was not one that the agency was very pleased with. According to the notice in the newspaper, anyone could consult the bidding document between certain hours. However, when we tried, during those very times, we were never able to see the document. The person who had the document seemed to always be gone as soon as we showed up.

Not to be discouraged we decided to blindly purchase the bidding document. The newspaper indicated a bank and account number to deposit the equivalent of roughly $50 to buy the document. So we went to the bank to make the deposit. Account number invalid. Indeed, the newspaper showed an account number with just 6 digits when all account numbers here have 13.

Then we tried to get information by attending a meeting announced in the newspaper notice for which there is a date, but no time. We sent someone who spent all day. The meeting was never held.

Finally yesterday, we were able to get the right bank account number. We deposited the funds and took the receipt to the agency to get the RFP. They are unable to give it to us because their copy machine is out of paper! I am not making this up.

We have lost already three precious weeks while the agency continues to play games with us. We are only more determined than ever to respond. Since this is a World Bank financed project, we will certainly get the RFP (which we paid for) just in time for our name to be added to the list of expected bidders but too late to obtain the required bank guarantee and to meet the other administrative conditions listed in the document.

The World Bank is meant to be a development organization but most of their funded projects are awarded through a process that is often less than equitable and is sometimes the result of blatant corruption. The World Bank seems to be aware of this. They have an elaborate system of reporting on the procurement process: http://web.worldbank.org/WBSITE/EXTERNAL/PROJECTS/PROCUREMENT/0,,contentMDK:20251613~pagePK:84269~piPK:84286~theSitePK:84266,00.html. But under what category would you put Copy machine out of paper?


  1. You know, I saw a similar RFP announced with similar terms in my local daily, with an advert large enough to look open, but the fine print showed that you would have to be a camel ready to go through the eye of the needle to do this. A well known process? yes. For the from-the-bootstraps agency, I understand, no. One would have to become the stereotypical contractor, and find some good close friends who are the local partners with said Bank. Or so my local friends in this country tell me.

  2. well, i as a person working in implementation units in Croatia can only say that tenders from the World Bank are fair. We even have to convince bidders to submit their bids because they dont believe that the bidding is "not decided" even before the RFPs are drafted. Thats my experience (and i am working in the procurement). Maybe units/sectors where i work are just not corrupt...

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