Over the past two years Kyrgyzstan has been working to make its legislation on the state purchases of goods and services meet the standards of developed countries which are members of the World Trade Organization. The World Bank and the European Union are assisting Kyrgyzstan in achieving this goal. Within the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement between Kyrgyzstan and the European Union, a French expert, Franzois Serre, has made a comparative analysis of the existing rules for the state purchases in the EU and Kyrgyzstan. Then he arrived in Kyrgyzstan and met with specialists of local purchasing and supplying organizations to present the results of his study and listened to their opinions about the European Union's recommendations. Here is an interview of the independent French expert in Bishkek.
Q: Are the recommendations of European experts applicable to Kyrgyzstan, where the economic situation is much worse than that of the European Union?
A: In Europe we have market rules applicable to any country, rich or not. The benefit for economically weak countries is that by learning other countries' experiences they can integrate into the international market quicker and more easily. Kyrgyzstan wishes to do it as well, doesn't it? After analyzing the differences between your and our laws, I have come to the conclusion that the reason lies in purchasing organizations. I think that private companies must have equal opportunities to participate in the bids held by the state purchasing organizations. In Kyrgyzstan, there are restrictions for foreign companies.
Q: In the opinion of the Kyrgyz State Purchasing Commission, this restriction aims to protect domestic companies from richer foreign companies. How do you solve this problem in Europe?
A: The European Union laws are applicable to France, a member of the EU. So the French laws can not prohibit international companies from carrying out business activity in France. If, for instance, a German company bidding for a state purchase contract in France sees that French companies enjoy some privileges, it would apply to the court.
Q: What court? The European Court?
A: No, first to the local court. If all the possibilities of fair consideration of their lawsuit have been exhausted, they might apply to the European Court.
Q: In Kyrgyzstan, not only ordinary citizens but also government officials do not trust the judicial system. Even President Akaev has admitted the necessity to reform the court system.
A: I know that. In Europe, including France, the state agency similar to your State Purchasing Commission has mostly regulatory functions. Our court system is more developed as well. We even have special administrative courts trying cases concerning state purchases. These courts have existed for over 200 years.
In countries where judges lack the required experience and knowledge for regulating this sphere, the state agencies (like the State Purchasing Commission) must consider complaints, at least during a transition period. But it does not mean that complainants may not apply to the court. They must have the right for this. Now the Kyrgyz State Purchasing Commission has a rich experience of considering mistakes made by tender commissions.
Q: There is a high level of corruption in the sphere of state purchasing. Are European methods of fighting corruption applicable to Kyrgyzstan?
A: In France corruption is high as well. Good laws or a well-functioning court system can not prevent it. One of my recommendations suggests improving the Kyrgyz legislation to reduce corruption. Equal opportunities for everyone to apply to the court could improve the situation here. In Europe, for instance, potential participants in state purchase bids can apply to the court with the demand to suspend the bid. Such an opportunity in Kyrgyzstan would improve the state purchasing process.
Another question is whether the courts alone must consider such complaints and are they prepared for this? I think Kyrgyzstan must reduce the number of the state agencies having the right to make contracts with the state purchasing organization. I mean the case when an agency is a subdivision of the very same purchasing organization.
Q: Besides the EU, the World Bank is also participating in the project to reform the Kyrgyz state purchasing system. Do the recommendations of the EU and the World Bank coincide?
A: Yes. The World Bank has criticized Kyrgyzstan because local tender commissions have turned into standing structures. The State Purchasing Commission must carry out supervisory functions concerning the bid procedure, to prevent any complaints from the bidders.
By Larisa Lee, The Times of Central Asia, May 29, 2003