There is now a significant and unacceptable delay in implementing the new Public Procurement system. The Public Procurement & Disposal of Public Property law was Act No 1 of 2015, so come January 2018, it will have been passed by Parliament three years ago. When the current administration took office in September 2015, several amendments were made and those were passed by Parliament in June 2016 as Act No 5 of 2016.
Although I am convinced that this implementation is taking too long, it is noteworthy that the Central Tenders Board Act of 1961, was only activated by the swearing-in of the first Central Tenders’ Board in 1966. It took five years to implement that important Act with all the necessary arrangements in place such as offices, staff, stationery and so on.
So what is causing these delays with this critical new law? Apart from the law itself, which is now in place, there are three pre-conditions to the new system being started –
- Training – Given that the new Act imposes strict penalties all of which are custodial, there is a serious need for proper training. Every organ of the State which transacts in Public Money must have a named Procurement Officer, who will bear responsibility for those transactions under the new Act. The training started since 2014, with most of the Ministries and State Agencies having been prepared by now;
- Budget – The new Act will be operated by the Office of Procurement Regulation (OPR) and funding for that new Institution was approved in 2017;
- Appointment of Board – The OPR will be controlled by a Board which is appointed by the President of the Republic, after consultation with the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition (S10 of the Act refers). That is the significant delay with which we are faced at this stage. There have been two invitations to apply for the full-time positions of Chairman and Deputy Chairman of the OPR Board. In both cases all the submissions have not been acknowledged, so there is an apparent gap at that level.
The Private Sector Civil Society (PSCS) Group is a lobby formed to push for this critical new law, operating under the Chairmanship of my erstwhile colleague, former JCC President and Chaconia Medal (Gold) holder, Winston Riley. The members of that group are the JCC; the T&T Manufacturers’ Association; T&T Chamber of Industry and Commerce; the American Chamber of Commerce; the T&T Transparency Institute; the T&T Coalition of Service Industries; Local Content Chamber and the Federation of Independent Trade Unions and NGOs (FITUN).
The PSCS Group pointed out in its 30th November 2017 letter to President Carmona –
“…The PSCSG has privately indicated to you on May 1st, 2017 its objection to the involvement of the Office of the President and of the Ministry of Finance as both bodies are listed under section 5 of the ACT as a public body and thus subject to the Act…”
That objection to the involvement of the Office of the President in the process for recruitment of the OPR Board is fundamentally untenable, for two reasons. Firstly, the proposal for that approach emanated from the said PSCS group and was accepted by Parliament, which leads to the second point, that the appointment procedure is the one stipulated by the Act.
Open letter to President Carmona
On Tuesday 12th December 2017, I published an open letter to President Carmona together with my colleagues, Reginald Dumas and Victor Hart, calling on him to make these appointments in as transparent and open a manner as possible. That letter was carried as a ‘letter to the editor’ in the Guardian of Wednesday 13th and was also the subject of a Newsday article on Thursday 14th – ‘President urged to give Procurement details‘.
The large-scale waste and theft of Public Money remains one of the most serious concerns for our country and the full implementation of the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Property Act is therefore a matter of very high priority. That implementation should be done in a manner which fosters confidence and sets the table for a new era of proper dealings in the conduct of our nation’s public affairs.
We are encouraged by the 2nd November 2017 Press Releases from the Office of the President and the Ministry of Finance, both stating that the appointment of the Board for the Office of Procurement Regulation is anticipated to be made by the end of this month, December 2017.
As a matter of best practice in these most crucial appointments, the public should be apprised of the details of the selection process. This is simply not a matter we can afford to have go awry, since there is such a dire need for transactions using our increasingly limited Public Money to be properly supervised.
As a parallel example, we would offer for adoption the 39th recommendation of the Uff Report:
“The reviewing of tenders and the making of decisions upon the award of contracts should be undertaken in as transparent a manner as possible, including demonstrating clear compliance with procurement rules, so as to allay suspicion of improper actions or potential corrupt influences.”
The point is that contracts, particularly large-scale, shou ld not be awarded without elementary transparency so that the public can be assured of straight dealings. The appointment of the Procurement Regulator will be one of the most critical contract awards in the history of our Republic, albeit an employment contract.
We are therefore requesting, in the public interest, that the following details be published before the appointments are made:
- the selection process being used;
- the identity of the firm or personnel implementing that process;
- the identity of the shortlisted applicants.
We anticipate an early and positive reply in the collective interest of instilling and maintaining a high degree of public confidence in the processes involved in this critical matter.
We await your response.