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Chairman of Office of Procurement Regulation, Moonilal Lalchan.

The Office of Procurement Regulation (OPR) has identified 18 companies with questionable procurement practices and forwarded that information to the Government.

The absence of proper proclamation of the Procurement Legislation has stymied the efforts of the Office of Procurement Regulation in dealing with these situations itself.

Chairman of the OPR, Moonilal Lalchan was before the Public Accounts Committee yesterday and confirmed that the body is basically toothless to enforce proper procurement and cannot challenge companies that fail to adhere to proper procurement practices.

“We cannot conduct the level of investigation but once we have the powers to conduct those investigations we have a direct line to take it to the DPP, once we are satisfied that a breach of the Act, in terms of an offence, has been committed,” he said.

“We have already met with the DPP and set up the relationship in terms of how do we get involved,” Lalchan said.

But for now, the 18 red-flagged companies can only be assessed based on the present legislation.

“Because we cannot make a determination on the new legislation until it is proclaimed,” he said.

He said with regards to the 18 companies, there was “cause for concern” and the OPR could only write to the relevant Permanent Secretaries at the various Ministries and request that they conduct an internal investigation.

Lalchan produced an audit which showed that out of some 314 organizations it questioned, only 70 responded and of that 70, only 20 had some sort of code of procurement conduct in place.

“It’s a definite area of concern but if I may say that even though we made the request, there was no authority to compel them to respond. That part of the act was not proclaimed,” he said.

“But it is a little more troubling than that,” Lalchan said.

He said that the companies described as “public bodies” use public money and some did not supply the information needed.

The body does not have the authority to force those companies to comply.

Chairman of the PAC, Opposition MP Dave Tancoo expressed his surprise and disgust that companies spending public money were not more forthcoming with their procurement policies.

“They must know that regulations are going to be approved with which they must then comply,” he said.

He said that in the current situation, funds are being spent but no assurance of structure and transparency.

“That is a deeply troubling issue,” Tancoo said.

One Committee member, Opposition senator Jearlean John questioned the actual role of the OPR, if it could not compel companies to share its procurement processes. She also questioned the line of reporting from the OPR to the ministry.

According to the current legislation, public companies must submit an annual procurement plan to the OPR within a fixed timeframe, but so far only four out of some 314 entities have complied and the OPR cannot force compliance.

“That part of the Act is unfortunately not proclaimed,” Lalchan said, adding that since April 2020, an additional 26 companies have complied.

Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Finance, Michelle Durham-Kissoon said it expected the proclamation to be “imminent” and the Ministry did not have a role.

“When the debate concludes, following from Friday, we expect that proclamation would be imminent. The Ministry of Finance does not have a role in this respect for taking any punitive action,” she said.