May 27, 2013 Letters
D ear Editor,
The window of opportunity has reopened to allow in the possibility for the establishment of the Public Procurement Commission (PPC). The parliamentary opposition, it is reported, is demanding a functioning PPC as one of the conditions for its support of the Anti-Money Laundering and Countering of Financing of Terrorism (Amendment) Bill.
The Commission is over a decade overdue, emerging as it did out of the constitution reform process of 1999. It bears repeating that public procurement (the award of government contracts) was emphatically identified, in the tumultuous aftermath of the 1997 election, as a “Herdmanston issue”; a matter therefore that stood at the heart of race relations, social justice and equal opportunity in Guyana.
As the political parties again lock horns over its establishment, due weight must be given to several considerations to take the PPC further than its good looks on paper.
Firstly, our existing constitutional and other commissions have not fared well. The PPC must not be maneuvered into becoming a toothless, under-resourced, partial and visionless entity such as the ERC and the Integrity Commission. The political opposition would have learnt little were it to allow the PPC to be turned into a paper tiger. Assessments by the country’s Auditor General and the World Bank repeatedly confirm that public procurement in Guyana remains a model of waste, irregularities and fraud. The PPC must be serious.
Secondly, the role of public procurement as a socio-economic force and instrument (social procurement) must be duly recognized and acted upon. Through its annual capital budget, the government is the biggest purchaser of goods, works and services in our small economy. Last year, the GoG spent over G$56B. This year, its capital expenditure is set at G$86B. In whose hands locally does this money fall? How is this money distributed across firms and individuals, races, gender, regions and communities? Public procurement, as noted in one study, has become much more complex than “the purchase of pens and paper clips”.
Social procurement does not preach evenness of income or putting restraints on the fittest. The concept holds that because of the massive impact the government as a purchaser can make on various economies, some attempt must be made to achieve social goals without compromising the financial efficiency of the system. A range of viable targeting mechanisms has sprung up in countries such as the US (through affirmative action), Canada, Malaysia, South Africa and Northern Ireland to ensure that those deprived of or denied opportunities (normally, as a result of previous or current social and political wrongs) can benefit from the procurement process as contractors and subcontractors, and employers and employees. Social procurement is therefore an anti-exclusion and rebalancing device.
We in Guyana need not depend on studies (such as 2008 report of the UN mission to Guyana on Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and all forms of Discrimination) to appreciate that contract awards are heavily skewed in terms of the number of successful bidders (too limited) and their ethnicity, gender and/or political connections (one-sided).
In the way forward on this front, therefore, the ill state of pubic tendering in Guyana necessitates not just a heavy dose of transparency and administrative objectivity. The proper application of current rules will only reward those who have prospered and instead severely disadvantage those who over the years have been battered or buried for being at the losing end in a contest dominated by corruption and partisan political calculations. As such, even should the new PPC do its work professionally, the playing field has become so unlevel in terms of who now can meet the financial and other criteria that competition would be grossly unfair and unjust.
The renewed call for the establishment of the PPC must look beyond countering corruption and money laundering, important as these are. It must include socio-economic-rebalancing in the interest of all groups and communities.
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