Jul 23, 2016 News
By Kiana Wilburg
Contractors who produce shoddy work, unreasonable cost over runs, trading of insider information and other corrupt practices will no longer be condoned within the public procurement sector, expressed Junior Finance Minister, Jaipaul Sharma.
The Minister gave this comment just after delivering remarks at the first ever Public Procurement symposium which was held by the Ministry of Public Infrastructure yesterday at the Arthur Chung Convention Centre.
Sharma said that he is pleased that the Ministry took the initiative to hold the forum and is heartened by the attendance of new entrant contractors.
The Junior Finance Minister stressed that it is necessary for more attention to paid to addressing the weaknesses of this crucial sector which often accounts for more than 70 percent of the national budget and more that 27 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
At the event, Sharma told the contractors that he does not want a repeat of what the past contractors are famous for and implored them to pay careful attention to the lessons being handed down by experts within the public procurement field.
The Junior Finance Minister also called upon the contractors to equip themselves with the Public Procurement Act so that they can be guided by the rules governing the area.
Minister within the Ministry of Public Infrastructure, Annette Ferguson, said that the purpose of the symposium was to educate new and old contractors on the process when procuring for goods, services, and consultancy work. She added that procurement played a critical role in Guyana’s development.
The Junior Minister then made reference to the findings of former Auditor General, Anand Goolsarran, relating to the loopholes within the public procurement sector.
She recalled that Goolsarran is of the opinion that the weak systems of the tendering system need to be addressed by the new administration. They cost the country approximately $28B annually.
Goolsarran also 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.
Ferguson said that Goolsarran’s comments raise significant concerns and as such, the symposium should serve as the first step towards fixing some of those issues. She believes that the symposium is also timely. It is part of the Ministry’s efforts to increase transparency and fairness while eliminating corruption through education on the Procurement Act and its accompanying regulations.
Also addressing the event was Minister of Public Infrastructure, David Patterson. He emphasized that the main aim of the discussion on public procurement was to build capacity. He said that while the Ministry was inundated with persons interested in working with it, many of these persons were unaware of the correct process for procurement.
“We found that, because of that, there was a need for this seminar. It is my job to ensure that there is change,” he stressed.
He added that the procurement process faces a number of hurdles, including distrust of the system and ignorance on the part of contractors. Therefore, he said, the symposium was geared towards empowering contractors in every facet.
Patterson emphasized, too, that the Ministry of Public Infrastructure is committed to transparency and would therefore work stridently towards improving the procurement process.
“We are starting the process today and it is a continuing process,” he said. He added that there will be a focus on improving interactions between contractors and ministry officials.
For the morning session, participants were privy to information on the Procurement Act; the prequalification process; and compliance with the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA); the National Insurance Scheme (NIS); and insurance companies.
The afternoon session included a discussion on bid submission; information on the bid evaluation process; and the contract award/protest process.
While the Ministry of Public Infrastructure is moving to enhance the public procurement sector through various initiatives, the Ministry of Finance is also making some strides in this regard.
Just recently, Finance Minister Winston Jordan announced that the area of public procurement is expected to face greater scrutiny.
According to Jordan, he intends to provide a greater degree of assurance about the transparency and fairness needed in the award of contracts. The economist wants to ensure greater confidence from all stakeholders in the system. He insists that this becomes paramount since there is no Public Procurement Commission (PPC) in place.
Jordan said that this is also part and parcel of his efforts to bring transparency to the national budgets, as more than 70 percent of it deals with public procurement.
The Finance Minister noted that there will also be compliance with principles laid out in the Inter-American Convention against Corruption and United Nations Convention against Corruption, to which Guyana is a signatory.
Jordan promised that the government will review and revise, where necessary, the Procurement Act and its Regulations, and present these to the National Assembly by December 2017.
He said, too, that the National Procurement and Tender Administration Board (NPTAB) will establish complaints mechanisms and debarment procedures that take account of international best practices. The deadline for this is also December 2017.
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