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Bring on new procurement regime now
In the two interviews he conducted last week—one with CNC3’s Morning Brew programme and the other with a radio station—Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley raised the issue of the possibility that proper procurement procedures were not followed with regard to the Super Fast Galicia, the inter-island cargo vessel on which millions of state funds have been spent over the last three years.
In both interviews, the Prime Minister indicated that certain interest groups were in favour of strong procurement before, but when there was an issue with the cargo vessel “all of a sudden procurement is not an issue any more.”
The question that many people have raised is why did the Government not trigger the procurement procedures in a way that eliminated the possibility of a lacuna in the availability of this essential cargo service between Trinidad and Tobago.
But in the wake of the Galicia fiasco, the more fundamental question that Prime Minister Rowley and his Minister of Finance Colm Imbert must now answer is why does the Government appear to be dragging its feet with regard to the full implementation of the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Property Act.
An amendment to a bill passed by the previous administration was introduced by Mr Imbert on November 13, 2015. The amendments dealt with matters such as the removal of the Regulator by a tribunal, as well as important clarifications on the disposal of state lands.
The legislation was analysed by a Joint Select Committee, which reported to the House of Representatives within the eight weeks allocated for its deliberations on January 22, 2016.
In May and June 2016, the legislation was taken through both houses of parliament and it was assented to by President Anthony Carmona on June 17, 2016, some ten months ago.
What remains to be done before the new procurement regime is fully implemented is the staffing the Office of the Procurement Regulator and its board, putting in place the arrangements for the review board, drafting and publishing the regulations for the new procurement regime and ensuring that all the required staff of the ministries, departments and state enterprises are properly trained in the new procedures.
In delivering the 2017 budget, Mr Imbert announced that it was the Government’s intention to fully operationalise the new public procurement system in 2017.
“We expect that the Procurement Regulator and the Board of Procurement Regulation will be appointed and all required public procurement units or procurement entities will be established within the next six months,” said Mr Imbert.
He added that by the end of March 2017, if not before, all public bodies “will be required to carry out public procurement and the disposal of public property in a manner that is consistent with the Public Procurement Act.”
Of course, with the end of March already past, neither the Procurement Regulator nor the Board of Procurement Regulation have been appointed. The institutional arrangements to operationalise the new procurement regime have not been completed either.
Had such arrangements been in place on schedule, the new board of the Port Authority might have been able to make arrangements for a new cargo vessel for Tobago, under the new procurement regime, which Mr Imbert expects will make “the bid-rigging, collusion, manipulation, overpricing and corruption that was endemic in the 2010 to 2015 period…a thing of the past.”
Hopefully, given his new sensitivity to procurement issues, the Prime Minister will take the same kind of ownership of proper procurement procedures as he has the Sandals development in Tobago.
Given that the Government is negotiating to buy land in Tobago from Clico, which may then be leased to Sandals, Dr Rowley should be aware that that proposed hotel development is likely to also fall under the new procurement regime.