Gov’t told to disclose procurement exemptions as parliament set to debate act today

Home*Cover Story*News

Gov’t told to disclose procurement exemptions as parliament set to debate act today

As government gets ready to convene Parliament today to amend the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Property Act, which came into law just three months ago, former Senate president Timothy Hamel-Smith is calling on them to account to the public by providing a list of all money it spent and the vendors which earned money from the State in the controversial procurement exemption.

The Government applied for an exemption from the Procurement Act to cover the costs of hosting Caricom’s 50th-anniversary celebration and its 45th general meeting.

However, Hamel-Smith, in a statement to the media, said that the Government having flouted the procurement law now “seeks to validate such actions retroactively”.

“While to err is human, good governance and justice demands that at minimum the Government lays before the Parliament for public scrutiny (i) a comprehensive list of all expenditure unlawfully incurred, and (ii) the suppliers to whom payment is intended to be made before we are asked to forgive their violations of the law.

“If our Government fails to make such disclosure, not only does it demonstrate that it holds the public in contempt, but this leads to the conclusion that what they are seeking to do is to cover up the very corruption that procurement law was intended to eradicate,” he said.

A clause in the act allows the Finance Minister to issue an exemption order for urgent matters.

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley had said that in its current form, the legislation does not allow for business to be transacted in a space of under two months and that changes are necessary to ensure the act functions in citizens’ interest.

Rowley said the Government received legal advice on the matter which indicated that its operations could grind to a halt without the legislative changes.

Hamel-Smith said the Government’s move to amend a law which has been in the works for the past seven years, would be akin to conducting “the funeral rites”.

Hamel-Smith had chaired a Government’s Public Procurement Oversight Committee under the UNC government which had proclaimed certain sections of the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Property Act to establish the Office of Procurement Regulation (OPR) in 2015.

He described the public procurement law as “one of the most vitally important pieces of legislation enacted since our independence”.

He noted that it was demanded by civil society groups “in the hope that this would be the catalyst to reverse the corruption and squandermania in government spending which threatens to ruin our country”

Hamel-Smith said that beyond validation and the correcting of the errors made by previous amendments by the Government, the approach to amending the procurement law should include:

1. If an emergency occurs, then the Government or the relevant agency should apply to the Office of the Regulator to make an Order, that it is satisfied that such an emergency indeed exists and to expeditiously approve the expenditure and the suppliers and service providers to whom payments are to be made.

2. The Emergency Order identifying the emergency and the facts and circumstances and the expenditure to be incurred and the suppliers/service providers to be paid shall be published forthwith by the procurement regulator unless the Government satisfies the procurement regulator that the nature of the expense involves sensitive national security concerns.

3. If the Government proposes to incur expenditure of less than one million dollars with respect to a single project or service which does not involve multiple components or packages, then it may do so without prior approval subject to its submission to the Office of the Procurement Regulator prior to entering such contract or incurring expense thereunder of (i) a description of the project or service (ii) the amount of the payment, and (iii) the supplier or service provider to whom payment is to be made.

4. All amendments to the procurement law should require support by a certificate of the procurement regulator as to whether or not the proposed amendment is minor in nature and does not affect (i) the principles of accountability, integrity, transparency, and value for money or (ii) efficiency, fairness, equity and public confidence (the ‘objects of good procurement’).

5. If the procurement regulator certifies that the proposed amendment affects the ‘objects of good procurement’, then such amendment shall require approval of three-fifths of each House of Parliament. Let’s hope we make good procurement laws so that we eradicate corruption and squandermania in government spending which threatens to ruin our country.