Nov 26, 2021 News
—Jordan flags Balgobin’s roles as chair of NPTAB and director of projects at Finance Ministry
Kaieteur News – Against the background of a slew of controversial contract awards, Former Minister of Finance, Winston Jordan is calling for an investigation into the operations of the National Procurement and Tender Administration Board (NPTAB) whose chairman, Tarachand Balgobin, is also the Director of Project Cycle Management at the Ministry of Finance.
In an interview with this newspaper, Jordan explained that with the watchdog entity- the Public Procurement Commission (PPC) inoperable ‘super contracts’ are being given away to companies with no prior experience in construction, in violation of the Procurement Act of 2003. In fact, the former Minister said a glaring anomaly is that the Chairman of National Procurement and Tender Administration Board (NPTAB), Tarachand Balgobin also serves as the Director of Projects. “What I know is the Watchdog for the Tender Board is not there, which is the Public Procurement Commission and therefore a lot of things are sliding away. We first have the anomaly of the Chairman of Tender Board being the Director of Projects. If that is not Conflict of Interest, I don’t know what else the definition is, but that is going on,” he explained.
Back in September last year, Minister of Public Works, Juan Edghill appointed the new board for NPTAAB. At the time, Edghill was tasked with the responsibility of Finance.
Among the appointments announced, was that of Balgobin, as new ‘temporary’ Chairman of the Board. He assumed chairmanship from Berkley Wickham.
Since then, there has been no further update with regard to the appointment of Balgobin. Kaieteur News on Thursday reached out to the Communications Officer of the Ministry, Candace Field, who confirmed the designation of Balgobin as Head, Project Cycle Management Division. This has sparked questions concerning the credibility of the tender board.
In addition to this, Jordan argued that the trained staff of NPTAB was removed by the Government, and replaced with persons with no experience, following their ascension to office. Considering this, as well as the recent awards of contracts to companies with no experience in construction, Jordan said a complete investigation must be done.
“It calls for a detailed investigation of the Tender Board and the Tender Board activities over the last 15 months, because clearly the body is now throwing up projects and are now throwing out companies of which we are now hearing about. We are not certain of their track records, but they are being given super contracts to build different schools and other buildings…what needs to happen is a complete investigation of the operations of the Tender Board before it degenerates further,” he pointed out.
Jordan also voiced his concerns over the removal of certain guidelines at the NPTAB, which in turn is allowing the Heads of Budget Agencies (HoBAs) to develop their own set of evaluation criteria for projects under their control, among others.
According to him, the Coalition government amended the Procurement Act, in 2019, to provide for the registration of contractors. This allowed for contractors to be categorised according to a set of criteria, including financial capacity, track record and technical capacity. The amendment also linked the Procurement Act with the Small Business Act, thus allowing small businesses easier and smoother access to public procurement.
He said the amendment also requires that all budget agencies submit their procurement plans, in keeping with their approved budgets. These plans should be in the public domain.
Jordan explained, “This practice by NPTAB allowed for checks and balances by ensuring, for example, that there was consistency in the documents and that the evaluation criteria were suitable for the type of procurement (works, goods and services). Budget agencies were required to make the necessary corrections before the bid documents were approved. With NPTAB imprimatur of the bidding documents, bidders were assured both of the authenticity of the document and the process”.
However, this procedure is no more. Jordan noted that in a letter dated September 24, 2020, which was addressed to the Heads of Budget Agencies (HoBAs), Tarachand Balgobin, in his capacity as Director, Project Cycle Management Division, Ministry of Finance disclosed, “The NPTAB has advised that the process of clearing tender documents prior to the launch of tender has been removed.”
“While Balgobin’s disclosure appears innocuous, it has serious implications; it has, with the stroke of a pen, removed a critical check and balance from the NPTAB and deposited it in the Budget Agency,” Jordan highlighted. As a consequence, each HoBA can now develop their own set of evaluation criteria for projects under their control, he noted, which not only creates confusion but also lays the basis for corruption.
Only on Wednesday Kaieteur News reported that the new Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), Jermaine Figueira flagged the need for the PPC to be established. Figueira’s comments came on the heels of the recent announcement that a ‘fly-by-night’ company, St8ment Investment Inc. has been granted a whopping $346 million contract to build a new Primary School at Bamia in Region 10, with no public records indicating any construction experience. CHAPTER 73:05 of the Procurement Act 2003 declares that each supplier or contractor that wishes to participate in procurement proceedings must qualify by meeting the criteria as the procuring entity considers appropriate. These include, “That its past performance substantiated by documentary evidence would commend it for serious consideration for the award of the contract”.
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