The sentiments expressed recently by Junior Finance Minister, Juan Edghill, on the Public Procurement Commission have attracted many comments from knowledgeable minds, in particular, Anand Goolsarran of the Transparency Institute Guyana Inc.
Minister Edghill was reported as saying that Guyana stands to suffer no disadvantage from the non-establishment of the Public Procurement Commission (PPC).
Goolsarran, a former Auditor General, has emphatically stated that it is regrettable that the Minister would even make such a remark. “When one travels around the country and observes the substandard work being performed, the significant delays in the execution of contracts, the exorbitant prices being charged, and over-payment to contractors, among others, one cannot help but to conclude that something is terribly wrong with our system of public procurement.”
In light of the stalled PPC, Edghill has stated that other systems, such as the bid protest committee, are in place to address the concerns of aggrieved bidders in a fair and transparent manner.
Goolsarran, however, who after scrutinizing the comment, expressed that even though the Minister feels that there are adequate safeguards without the Procurement Commission, the constitutional requirements provide for an effective system of oversight of the public procurement process.
He said that this is more so, given that the members of the commission are required to be professionally and technically competent, independent and impartial; and to enjoy the confidence of Members of the National Assembly from both the Government and Opposition sides.
With regard to the review process to which the Minister refers, he contended that the Procurement Act does provide for this.
He said, “A bidder, whose tender proposal was rejected, may submit a written protest to the procuring entity within five business days of the contract award decision. If within the five business days, the procurement entity fails to review the protest, the bidder may submit a request for review by the National Procurement and Tender Administration Board (NPTAB).
“The procuring entity shall make the relevant records available to facilitate the review by the Bid Protest Committee. A written decision is then made within 15 business days of the conclusion of the review during which period the final contract award is suspended.”
Goolsarran said that he is not aware of any bidder, who was dissatisfied with the award of a contract, and who filed a request for a review by the NPTAB.
“Cabinet (of which the Minister of Finance, Dr. Ashni Singh is a key member) reviews all procurement whose value exceeds $15 million, as submitted by the NPTAB. Cabinet may only reject the proposed award if the procurement entity fails to comply with the applicable procurement procedures but it has 21 days to do so. When this happens, the matter is referred to the procurement entity for further review.”
He said that he is not aware of any situation where Cabinet objected to an award.
Given the overwhelming involvement of the Government in the public procurement process, Goolsarran said that it is understandable why dissatisfied bidders will not want to file any protest for fear that they may not be able to win any future award of contracts.
He stressed that it is for this very reason the Public Procurement Commission which is a constitutional, independent and impartial body, be in place to oversee the process.
Goolsarran said, “in response to a question from the Opposition during the 2012 budget debate, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett, had stated that the Commission would be established by June 2012.”
“In a previous sitting of the National Assembly, the Prime Minister, Samuel Hinds had also given the assurance that the Commission would be established soon.”
Despite these assurances, Guyana is still devoid of a Commission.
“Quite recently, the Presidential Advisor on Governance, Gail Teixeira, contradicted Attorney General, Anil Nandlall when she made the startling disclosure that the Government’s side was not in favour of relinquishing Cabinet’s role in the procurement process.
“She contended that on the day the Act was passed, there were last minute changes to phasing out of Cabinet’s involvement. Despite this, the Government’s side voted in favour of the Act. She has now indicated that her party would seek to have the Act amended to remove the requirement for a phasing out of Cabinet’s involvement.”
Goolsarran added that the Government’s position of retaining Cabinet’s role in the procurement process as a permanent feature will only serve to nullify the effects of the establishment of the Commission and the constitutional provisions on the matter.
“It is a signal that the Government is not inclined to place confidence in the work of the Commission despite its reported relationship with the Legislature; its membership to comprise experts enjoying the full confidence of the National Assembly; members’ ineligibility after serving two non-consecutive terms; and right of appeal to a Tribunal and thereafter to the Court of Appeal against any decision of the Commission.”
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