Unlimited changes is unfortunately still a thing in government tender documents in Singapore

By April 4, 2017Current

TL;DR – They should do as they preach.

Some time in 2016, there was a Facebook post that showed that a  government tender that required vendors to agree to “unlimited changes” to the work done. That post went viral and drew wide condemnation. The Ministry of Finance (MOF), which oversees GeBIZ, the government tender portal where companies log in and bid for tenders, agreed in a statement that it was unfair to expect suppliers to agree to unlimited changes in creative services.

In response to that incident, Vivek Kumar, the Director of U Creative said:

“We understand that such ill-informed practices are brought about not by malice in most cases, but by a lack of training on articulating the client needs for creative services. This appears as a gap in some of our creative sourcing processes in both public and private sectors, which must be addressed.

We strongly believe that the service buyer has a responsibility to design a brief which is mindful of both the client’s expectation and the creative effort to meet such expectations. This would also be in the interest of the service buyers in attracting good creative talent to meet their requirements.”

That was in 2016.

You would have thought that this practice would no longer exist after that outcry then. But you would be wrong.

It happened again recently.

An Invitation-to-Quote (ITQ) document recently published by the Defence Science and Technology Agency (DSTA) for the “DESIGN, PRODUCTION AND PRINTING OF MAGAZINE” still included a clause that asked for unlimited changes:

“The Supplier must be prepared to make changes to their proposed design and concepts, both for the CT magazine and mailing slip. There shall not be any limit on the number of reworks required (emphasis ours) before approval of the finished artwork.”

DSTA is a statutory board of the Ministry of Defence. The fact that we still have government agencies asking for unlimited changes is a serious issue in at least the following three ways:

1. Incompetence

Requiring the supplier to accept that “there shall not be any limit on the number of reworks required” shows an intense sense of insecurity. Whoever wrote the ITQ document is not confident that the person in charge of the project would be able to direct the supplier to come up with good quality and acceptable artwork within a given number of tries.

In other words, the person who wrote the ITQ document thinks that whoever is in charge of the project to be incompetent. That person needs a crutch. And with this crutch, that person has no need to push himself/herself to develop the skills needed to properly direct the vendor. That person can just give ambiguous instructions, which would inevitably lead to less than satisfactory work that would require many revisions.

That this sort of clauses still exists today reflects a worrying lack of urgency to develop high levels of competence of public officers in our government. The consequence? Our government becomes unproductive.

2. Unproductive

When I was in NS, one of my commanders had a guiding principle: “Do it once, do it well, do it right, book out early”. He stuck by that guiding principle and pushed us to master what we needed to do. Thanks to that thinking and the training, we seldom needed to redo things and were able to take the shortest time to do what we needed to do. As a result, we were often booked out earlier than other companies.

That’s what productivity is about.

To require unlimited number of reworks mean that whoever wrote that ITQ expected that the supplier and the people in DSTA in charge of the project would be unproductive. Because they are incompetent they aren’t able to get things right the first time round and would need to redo and redo and redo. That is a waste of resources, both for our government and the vendor.

If our government thinks that such lack of productivity is acceptable, it’s no wonder that our country’s productivity growth has been dismal. This is a big stumbling block on our path toward our future economy.

3. Stumbling block on path toward future economy

One of the key strategies that the Committee on the Future Economy (CFE) has identified is for Singaporeans to develop deep skills to stay relevant. But if our government isn’t doing as they are preaching, what right does it have to ask businesses to to do so? And even if businesses do build up deep competencies, what’s the point? Civil servants who aren’t competent enough to give clear directions will still be the bottleneck. What’s the point in developing deep skills then?

How can we progress then?

Government needs to stop being the blocker

Before preaching about productivity, changing mindsets, and developing deep skills, the government needs to take a cold hard look at itself.

Is it doing what it’s preaching? Or is it a case of do as I say, not as I do? Are the government’s practices and mindsets the biggest blockers to our progress toward the future economy that we need for our survival?

Hopefully the government will change its own mindsets, get its people to develop deep skills, and be more productive. Without doing those, anything else that the government does won’t yield the desired outcomes of the strategies in the CFE.

(Cover image via)


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Author CRC

Working on a startup is a scary crazy process. To destress, I write random stuff.

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