“…As Minister of Finance I was very much concerned with the decision to introduce a Central Tenders Board and take away the power to award tenders from elected representatives of local government bodies who enjoyed the privilege under existing legislation. That unsound arrangement, bad in principle, was further vitiated by the tendency of local government councillors not to award tenders to the lowest bidder….”
— Dr. Eric Williams, Inward Hunger: The Education of a Prime Minister. (London: André Deutsch, 1969), 250.
This week I juxtapose the delays in implementing the Public Procurement system and the intended amendments declared by Finance Minister Imbert, against the history, so that the wider issue can be understood. Minister Imbert is no outlier, he can be located as the current manifestation of the PNM’s deep and historic unease with modern arrangements for Accountability.
The establishment of the Central Tenders Board in 1961 was a high-water mark set by the first PNM administration in the ongoing struggle to ensure ‘morality in Public Affairs’. Since that 1961 Act, which took five years to implement, there has been a push against those legal provisions by successive PNM administrations, uneven and not always successful, but always in the same dismantling direction.
As far as I know, there has been no response from Finance Minister Imbert to the points raised in the previous article. Of course, no response is required, but given the importance of the issue and the highly engaged communication style of that Minister, I certainly had cause for a pause.
This article will continue last week’s examination of the delays, but first, some background. The new Public Procurement system replaces the Central Tenders Board, so it is useful to note that although the CTB Act is a 1961 law, the first Board was not sworn-in until 1966 – a full five years after the law. Note well, too, that this was at a period when the CTB Act had the full support of the first PNM administration of Dr Eric Williams and the opposition forces were then a mere shadow of their current selves.
Given that background, what can we make of these delays in getting the Office of Procurement Regulation (OPR) up and running? Firstly, even though The Act is No. 1 of 2015, the first OPR Board was appointed two years ago, in January 2018, under the Chairmanship of Moonilal Lalchan.
On 28 October 2016, the Appeal Court delivered its majority ruling upholding the decision of Justice Frank Seepersad on 14 July 2014 to order publication, under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), of the legal opinions on which the Ministry had been relying. The JCC had won its case at both the High Court and the Appeal Court, so I called for immediate publication of the requested information. The JCC made no such call, neither did any of my erstwhile colleagues.
At an Appeal Court hearing on 21 November 2016, the State obtained leave, with the JCC’s consent, to appeal this matter at the Privy Council. Whilst in Opposition, the PNM made repeated complaints against the secretive conduct of the Invaders’ Bay development by the Peoples Partnership. Now in Government, the PNM has elevated secrecy in public affairs to a new prominence.
Since Dr James Armstrong was appointed JCC President in December 2015, that organisation has been silent on the Invaders’ Bay matter. This had previously been of high importance as a major development in our capital city, which was proceeding illegally and improperly. The JCC now seems to have reversed its earlier position of pressing for publication of those vital, suppressed documents. Continue reading “Property Matters – Invaders’ Bay”→