This continues my series — Part 1 and Part 2 — on the unexplained and unacceptable delays in implementing the new Public Procurement system. Those delays arise from the failure or refusal of the Finance Minister to settle the Regulations which are essential for the Office of Procurement Regulation (OPR) to be fully operationalised.
Despite his firm commitment on 22 February 2019 –
“…I remain committed to attaining full implementation of the Act in the shortest possible time and the Ministry of Finance will continue to work assiduously towards that goal…”
Minister Imbert has had those redrafted Regulations and proposed amendments to The Act over four months now.
The opening point has to be that the new system is a leading-edge law to control transactions in Public Money and Disposals of Public Property. That system is formalised in The Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Property Act (The Act) which was developed locally by a number of civil society groups collaborating over an extended period.
Some of the most powerful features of the new system are that all transactions in Public Money are overseen by the OPR, with swift procedures for investigation and settlement of complaints. The sidebar outlines the main changes from the existing systems.
The point being that we are on the cusp of a monumental, positive and self-generated change in the way our large-scale public business is conducted. This moment is noteworthy, despite the appalling delay, so we have to push hard, openly and on solid principles for this new system to be urgently activated.
Assuming that the new system is activated now, these are some of the large-scale transactions in Public Money/disposals of Public Property which would be superintended by the OPR.
- The Petrotrin disposal would seem to be a large-scale disposal of valuable Public Property and since the contract has not yet been signed, one would reasonably expect that the OPR would have a significant role to play in ensuring that this transaction proceeded in conformity with The Act. Alternatively, this transaction could be structured as a Public Private Partnership with the OWTU-owned company, as already hinted via the declared financial concessions;
- The proposed La Brea Dry Dock project was declared to be a joint venture with a Chinese company to build and operate this facility on Public Property, with the State holding a minority shareholding. So, this Dry Dock deal could be achieved as a PPP in which the State holds shares, or a disposal of Public Property via a lease, or some combination of those elements. In any case, the OPR would have a superintending role to ensure compliance with The Act.
- The Magdalena Grand hotel in Tobago was announced in the 2020 budget to be in advanced negotiations for Apple Leisure to be appointed as its new operator after its refurbishment by e TecK. This PPP would also be under the remit of the OPR;
- The Operatorship Lease for Trinidad Hilton expires in 2023, so that renegotiation would also be under the remit of the OPR, either as a PPP or disposal of Public Property via lease.
These are some of the PPP aspects alluded to in the first article in this series, so the stakes are certainly high. Indeed, the stakes are too high and the history too wretched for any secrecy to be tolerated. The main cause of our progress has been the openness of the process, so our campaign was propelled by public concern and awareness of the transformative nature of our proposals.
Every citizen should take this as a matter of the utmost seriousness, irrespective of political loyalties.
We are at a real inflection point for the future of our society with this issue as shown in these pointed examples. One could even quip that the OPR is showing a fine sense of Just in Time procurement. Over to you, Minister Imbert.
ADDENDUM: The shift in systems
The change from the Central Tenders Board (CTB) to the Office of Procurement Regulation (OPR) can be summarised as the CTB being a centralised system, as per its name, while the OPR has an oversight function as Regulator.
The CTB invites and assesses tenders before it awards contracts. It does so on the instructions of Ministries and other public bodies under its remit. The OPR is not intended to invite or assess tenders or make contract awards – its role is to superintend the contracting decisions of the Procuring Agencies – i.e. all the Public Bodies or Public Private partnerships which transact in Public Money. The OPR also has oversight of disposals of Public Property of all kinds. The OPR has the power to create the rules for oversight of those diverse processes, investigate complaints and make findings. The new Procurement system is therefore a devolved one in which the State Enterprises, Ministries etc Procure, but under the supervision of the OPR.