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Core Concepts - A Sound Procurement Strategy

Procurement and distribution of election materials is often the most costly part of the electoral process, apart from the payment of election workers and the voter registration exercise. For an electoral support project, the budget for election materials needs to be realistic and estimated well in advance. Any delay or shortfall in the procurement or distribution of materials could have serious implications for the rest of the electoral schedule, thus potentially affecting the outcome of the election.

Drafting a procurement plan is now a mandatory step in project design. For an electoral assistance project, it should cover both election materials and expertise to deliver the project. Planning involves more than the selection of a procurement method; it also accounts for the legal and institutional frameworks in which procurement takes place.

Time and quality are crucial factors in planning the procurement of election materials. Those in charge of procurement should ensure that the solicitation of quotes or bids is timely, purchases are cost-effective and materials are delivered on time. UNDP representatives should inform and agree with the EMB and donors on procurement requirements that must be followed.

The process of putting in place major system enhancements—e.g., IT systems or new voter registration systems—should start as early as possible to maximize the time for system testing, procedural development, training, etc. Procuring major systems at the last minute maximizes costs, minimizes benefits and undermines sustainability.

As reference points for planning procurement, see 10-Steps of the Procurement Process, Key Points of a Successful Procurement Strategy, the Checklist for a Procurement Plan and the Checklist of Considerations and Challenges for Effective Procurement.

See also UNDP’s intranet on procurement.

Finding goods and services
Procurement of goods and services for elections can be divided into four main categories, corresponding to four different phases of the electoral process:

  • Election administration: hardware and software, vehicles, communication tools, printing services
  • Voter registration: hardware and software, means for printing and distributing registration forms, voter cards and data processing, other materials depending on the type of voter registration used (generally there are three types: manual and then computerized; use of an optical mark reader and then a scanner; or digital from the field to the database)
  • Election day activities: means for printing and distributing ballot papers, ballot boxes, voting screens, indelible or invisible ink, tamper-proof materials, forms
  • Results tabulation: software, results and media centre hardware, other communications equipment

Of these, procurement for voter registration and election day activities is particularly important because of the impact these processes have on the integrity, credibility and inclusiveness of the process and on the likelihood an election will happen on time. Professional advice should be sought on comprehensive and adequate specifications for products, with close attention to the fact that specifications vary in different contexts.

The inflexible deadlines of electoral procurement should be factored in, since the timing of procurement greatly affects pricing. Although most materials are low-tech and easy to produce, only a limited number of specialized suppliers exist. They know that deadlines are tight and often take advantage of that fact.

There are normally three options for procurement of goods and services;

  • Local Procurement (Procurement by Project/Country Office): This is usually an option when the total procurement value is low and/or goods to be procured are locally available. If such conditions exist, this option may give the fastest delivery of goods. However, in electoral assistance projects, procurement capacity of project/country office often be overwhelmed with complex process and large number of documentations as total value is high and/or goods are subject to international bidding.
  • UNDP’s Procurement Support Office (PSO): The PSO is now responsible for election-related procurement functions formerly carried out by the Inter-Agency Procurement Services Office. This option is usually preferable because it reduces the administrative burden on the country office, an important consideration if capacity and understanding of elections materials are weak. Long-term agreements (LTA) for electoral assistance goods may be available through PSO. PSO colleagues can conduct a short mission to assess procurement needs and offer a range of options before full-scale procurement is underway. A lead-time of one-to-two weeks is needed. Procurement is generally paid for by the requesting office, with an agreement that the costs are deducted from the procurement handling fee if and when the requesting office uses the PSO for electoral procurement. When the PSO has been retained to undertake a competitive exercise, any subsequent clearance and review must be in compliance with UNDP’s procurement guidelines. In such instances, the country office or PMU requires no further clearance from the contract review committees, regardless of the contract amounts. Instead, the PSO must seek relevant approvals.
  • United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS): The MOU between UNDP and UNOPS, signed in 2009, confirmed UNOPS’s comparative advantage in:
    • Procurement of "common user" and/or stand alone items as well as those of a complex nature;
    • Design and building of physical infrastructure which may include local capacity development for construction and maintenance;
    • Support services for discreet components within election and mine action projects; and

    Based on the MOU, in case a project plans the establishment of a physical facility, such as an information centre, or procurement in complex post-conflict setting, use of UNOPS’s service is available.

At the same time, it should be noted that UNDP retains the direct procurement functions that are critical to the delivery of UNDP development results, specifically in the areas of elections support.

Finding the right experts
Retaining consultants for electoral assistance under an Individual Contract (IC) is a procurement issue. It requires starting early. See also Sample TORs under Tools section.

Good electoral experts are not guaranteed to be available at the specific time of the election, so should be booked well in advance, particularly for medium- or long-term advisory posts. It is important to work with DPA/EAD to tap its roster of electoral experts and check references. DPA – UNDP Note of Guidance on Electoral Assistance confirms that UNDP will use the EAD roster as a key source of expertise, in addition to other sources, and that the use of EAD roster for identification of candidates satisfies the necessity of competitive process. Elections are always politically sensitive and the ability of experts to function in such situations, in addition to their technical expertise, can be crucial to the success of the project.

In terms of the procurement process itself, specific knowledge on how to access procurement services can considerably increase the efficiency, quality and transparency of an electoral assistance programme, while reducing costs and delivery times. If recruiting additional staff to support UNDP procurement functions, the country office should ensure that they are familiar with UNDP procurement procedures and that they have a fair understanding of elections. Otherwise, intensive orientation and training initiatives should be considered a priority.

Elections, Electoral, Electoral Cycle, Electoral Law, Voter registration, Civic Education, Voter Education, Public Outreach, Turnout, Voter, Political Party, Political Parties, Electoral Observation, Basket funds, Resource Mobilization, Fund Management, Electoral Procurement, Election Materials, UNDP, United Nations Development Programme, Implementation, Electoral Assistance, Partnership, Capacity Development, Needs Assessment, Risk Assessment, Terms of Reference, ToRs, Electoral Budget, Electoral Planning, Electoral Management Body, EMB, Project Development, Note of Guidance, Guidance, ACE Electoral Knowledge Network, ACE, BRIDGE, Building Resources in Democracy Governance and Elections, EC-UNDP Partnership, EC-UNDP Operational guidelines, Electoral Administration, Gender