PM, stop sending mixed signals on public procurement law | Letters to the Editor

The T&T Joint Construction Industry Council (JCC) has been invited to participate in the Spotlight on the Economy forum organized by the Ministry of Finance on Friday.

All present were informed that the 2022/2023 budget was going to be read by the Minister of Finance on September 26 and that the country could expect more than TT$50 billion, with a smaller deficit of around TT$2 billion. of dollars. This was indeed good news.

The JCC, however, warned the public earlier this year that we were set to have another budget read in 2022 without public procurement reform via legislation that has undergone all due process, including three rounds of amendments, since 2015.

The current situation, as far as the public has been informed, is that the Attorney General told Parliament on June 22, 2022 that, among other things, the Chief Justice’s comments (which he had solicited from the AG) were “traffic stop”—meaning the government could not proceed with full operationalization at that time, but the Ministry of Attorney General and Legal Affairs was addressing all “outstanding” issues with the government. assistance from the OPR.

During the question and answer period, the CCM therefore posed the following question to the Honorable Prime Minister: “Based on the fact that public procurement reform has the potential to save taxpayers billions of dollars, what is the government’s revised target date for full operationalization of the procurement legislation?”

The Prime Minister’s response was equally astonishing and disappointing. First, he indicated that he disagrees that procurement reform has the potential to save T&T billions of dollars. For this, he relied on his recent discussions with the Jamaican Prime Minister, during which the latter indicated that in the Jamaican experience, this leads to higher costs and more delays in the area of ​​​​small-scale procurement. .

The CCM cannot find any evidence for this claim, but warns Dr Rowley that we should compare ourselves to more developed countries if we aspire to achieve significant improvement in our systems.

Dr Rowley then repeated his earlier public comment that public procurement reform was not a panacea for tackling corruption. No stakeholder has ever claimed that public procurement legislation, once implemented, would be a magic wand to change the corruption associated with public spending.

Operationalizing the legislation would simply facilitate effective oversight by an independent body, the OPR, which is now equipped with the human and technological resources necessary to perform its main function under the Public Procurement and Disposal of Assets Act.

Everyone understands that the process of change will continue to be slow before the country realizes the benefits of reduced corruption through increased efficiency, independent oversight and transparency.

Dr Rowley, of all people, understands that good behavior when it comes to public money needs to be legislated, while transgressions require heavy enforceable penalties to be a deterrent.

Or, as Martin Luther King Jr said, “Morality cannot be legislated, but behavior can be regulated.” Judicial decrees cannot change the heart, but they can restrain the heartless.

We therefore implore our Prime Minister to stop sending mixed signals to his ministers and public service entities that continue to spend public money with impunity.

We need the law fully operationalized to fight, as a society, against the heartless few who enjoy unfair advantages in public procurement.

After responding as described above, Dr Rowley closed his response by stating that yes, he wants the procurement legislation passed, but some work is needed, but will be done. The question of a final deadline was not given by the honorable Prime Minister.

After seven years of the parent law being passed in 2015 by the previous regime, this response is simply unacceptable from the person with the maximum power and ultimate responsibility for T&T.

According to the regulator, Mr. Moonilal Lalchan, “proper procurement practices could save this country $5.2 billion a year, which would otherwise be lost through corruption or inefficiency” (Express, 7 February 2020).

The CCM again calls on the Prime Minister to get involved in the details of the outstanding issues with the GA, which he described as “some work”, so that he can properly inform the public of a final date for full operationalization of public procurement legislation.

Fazir Khan

President

T&T Construction Industry Joint Council