Independent Senator fears Office of Procurement Regulator will become redundant

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Independent Senator fears Office of Procurement Regulator will become redundant

Independent Senator Charrise Seepersad fears the the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Property (Amendment and Validation) bill will render the Office of Procurement Regulator redundant.

Speaking against the bill in the Senate on Thursday, Seepersad said that for the bill to give the Finance Minister sole responsibility would contradict the act’s goal of accountability.

According to Seepersad, a fully working act could save the State $3 to $9.2 billion from corruption, based on data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation.

She said 20 per cent of TT businesses surveyed had told TI of paying bribes for critical services. A 2019 report by the Development Bank of Latin America had found TT ranked worse than the regional average for incidents of bribery, she added.

“The economy can only survive and grow if the waste is diminished and eventually eliminated altogether.

“Procurement regulation therefore must not be diminished or watered down for the sake of convenience and expediency.

“Further, giving a minister sole responsibility for seeking the public’s interest – as far as these amendments are concerned – is contradictory to what the act seeks to accomplish – transparency in public affairs.”

She feared the bill would render the Office of Procurement Regulator redundant.

Seepersad lauded the 2015 act for putting all public spending under the oversight of the Office of Procurement Regulator who himself must report to Parliament for scrutiny within 90 days of the end of a financial year.

“This, I am convinced, is an important tool in the fight against corruption and crime, and seeks to mitigate the instances of decades of questionable procurement practices.”

She said good procurement laws were in the public’s best interest and must stand up to global scrutiny and procurement standards.

Regarding the bill’s proposal of exemptions of up to $1 million, she warned, “There are no measures to prevent the splitting of contracts.”

Seepersad warned against comparing other countries to TT.

“Countries such as Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, the United States and Europe have threshold limits but these countries do not have the same level of corruption that exists in TT.

“It is a well-known and common practice for contracts to be broken up into smaller packages to avoid tender requirements.”

Seepersad suggested that companies had no excuse for not registering at the OPR as required under the act.

She questioned the bill’s proposal to retroactively validate two legal notices for spending on foreign dignitaries and the judiciary.