Jun 15, 2016 News
By Kiana Wilburg
The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) represents one of the most essential mechanisms of the
Parliament which ensures the culpability of public money. It does this by scrutinizing the Auditor General’s Reports which speak to how budgeted monies have been used by Ministries, Divisions, Corporations and other Independent and Semi-Autonomous bodies for a specified year.
However, many critics are of the view that the PAC has failed in its job to properly pursue areas of fraud and protect state assets when abuses by certain entities are highlighted by Auditor General, Deodat Sharma, in his reports.
One such critic is Chartered Accountant, Christopher Ram. In an invited comment, the attorney-at-law stated that with respect to the audit reports coming under its purview, “the Public Accounts Committee has been far too timid to pursue the question of fraud, internal audits, and the protection of state assets.”
Ram added, “I am not satisfied that a part-time PAC can do the job in a corruption-tainted country, and it seems to me that their powers need to be expanded, and they need to be supported by a full-time, well-resourced secretariat.”
Furthermore, the PAC has been struggling for various reasons when it comes to the establishment of the crucial Public Procurement Commission (PPC). In fact, the PAC is still at the same stage now in the Eleventh Parliament as it was in the Tenth, and that is at the selection of suitable persons for the Commission and the perusal of their applications.
Ram, like others, is disappointed with this state of affairs. He is of the view that there does not seem to be any will or urgency in setting up the PPC, although it is a mandatory obligation set out in the Constitution.
However, after months of delays, the Public Accounts Committee appears to be making some headway when it comes to the establishment of the Commission.
This is according to PAC Chairman, Irfaan Ali. In a brief interview with this newspaper, Ali expressed that the committee has received a number of nominations and the applications of those individuals are currently being reviewed by a subcommittee. The two-member sub-committee includes Minister of Social Protection, Volda Lawrence and the PAC Chairman.
He is hopeful that a shortlist of persons who best qualify to hold the post of Commissioners can be produced by June month-end.
The PAC Chairman was unable to say just how many applications they have received and are perusing. The Public Accounts Committee, which according to procedure, is chaired by a member of the opposition, has to nominate the five members of the Procurement Commission. The National Assembly by two-thirds majority has to ratify their appointments.
It was Ali who had set a March-month end date for the establishment of the crucial commission, only to backtrack and blame inadequate nominations from the public as a cause for further delays.
Based on a rigourous review of government’s current process of tendering and procurement, Finance Minister Winston Jordan came to the firm conclusion that the system is “broken” and as a result, fostered an environment of unfairness and inequality, among other ills. The Finance Minister asserted that the present system needs to be fixed quickly.
As an immediate step, he said that Government changed the composition of the Tender Board. Significantly too, Jordan said that with financial support from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), Government will implement a project to strengthen and modernize public procurement.
Through this project, the Finance Minister said that government will aim to improve the efficiency and value for money in public procurement through strategic planning and the introduction of electronic Government Procurement (e-GP).
He explained that the e-GP will allow all public authorities to manage their procurement process and Government purchases online; from advertising of bids, to receiving offers, to publication of contract awards and post-award contract management.
Jordan asserted that other activities contemplated are: revision of the Procurement Act and its Regulations; establishment of a complaints mechanism and debarment procedures that take account of international best practices; and training in modern procurement operations and tools.
The Finance Minister had told Kaieteur News that these reforms to the Tender Board would be done to make the entity more responsive, while returning accountability and transparency to it.
The award of contracts in Guyana by the National Procurement and Tender Administration Board (NPTAB) has always been a matter of contention in several quarters. There have been accusations of favouritism along with other complaints of anti-competitive practices.
To fix this, the APNU+AFC Government has been advocating for the establishment of the PPC for some time.
Former Auditor General Anand Goolsarran, who had spoken extensively on the matter, said that the weak systems of the NPTAB need to be addressed by the new administration, as they cost the country approximately $28B annually.
He then pointed to credible allegations of corrupt behaviour in public procurement. These included sole sourcing of drug contracts, contract splitting, inflated engineer’s estimates, evaluation bias on behalf of favoured contractors, the use of inexperienced contractors, the absence of competitive bidding in some cases and overpayment to contractors.
Goolsarran had said that at least US$140M, is lost annually by looking at those areas. His estimation was garnered from an overview of the Auditor General’s reports on the country’s accounts over the past few years.
He had also highlighted some of the glaring shortcomings of the NPTAB, among them the absence of District Tender Boards for Neighbourhood Democratic Councils; the failure to publish in NPTAB’s website; the award of all contracts between $200,000 and $15 million; the failure of members of the various tender boards to file financial returns with the Integrity Commission; the non-establishment of a formal Bid Protest Committee and the failure to exercise due diligence in ensuring that evaluators had the requisite expertise.
Goolsarran had said, too, that there are certain parts of the Procurement Act which have not been adhered to since the Act came into effect on 1 January 2004. These include ensuring the criteria used for selection are such that they do not discriminate against particular contractors and suppliers and the award of contracts based on the lowest evaluated bid as opposed to the lowest bid.
Failing to look at these, he opined, has also proven to be very costly to the country.
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