This country’s circuitous route towards achieving a fully-implemented public procurement regime takes another detour today when, for the third time, amendments to the legislation will be debated in Parliament.
Finance Minister Colm Imbert, who will table the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Property (Amendment) Bill, 2020, is already facing some push back from the Opposition, who have expressed concern about the amendment to Section 7 of the act to remove from its scrutiny, legal, financial, accounting and auditing, medical and other services.
This is on top of concerns from the private sector about the numerous timelines not be met for full implementation of this very critical legislation.
Today’s debate is taking place just two days after Mr Imbert’s remarks at an online forum to launch the 2019 Report on Economic Development (RED) of the Development Bank of Latin America (CAF). According to the CAF report, T&T ranks higher than average in the region for incidents of bribery, with almost 20 per cent of firms surveyed stating bribes are being paid in exchange for critical services.
In fact, Mr Imbert raised a few eyebrows when he revealed he had been approached several times and offered bribes. He said he never accepted these inducements and was once told this was because he was too stupid to do so.
Even without this revelation, the report on its own is more proof of why this country has consistently poor showings in Transparency International’s Perception of Corruption Index. It further underscores the urgent need, after more than two decades of starts, stops and inordinate delays, to bring proper procurement legislation into full operation.
To understand the complicated route T&T governments have been taking on passage of this law, it is necessary to look back at what has transpired since the long-awaiting Procurement Act passed in December 2014 but not implemented by the then People’s Partnership government.
After the PNM came into government in 2015, it brought amendments to the Parliament twice. The first was laid in November 2015 and passed in June 2016, followed six months later by another amendment which was passed in March 2017.
More than three and a half years later, the country is still saddled with an only partially implemented act. Although the Office of the Regulator has been established and regulations on procurement of goods and services and disposal of assets have been drafted, they have not been laid in Parliament.
In January, Mr Imbert promised the legislation would be brought to Parliament by February. That did not happen but there was an undertaking it would be introduced March and at that time there was the proposal to amend Section 7.
There is now a very valid concern that, with even more amendments, the act could become watered down, which would leave the country in a position not much better than what the CAF report revealed.
It is important to underscore the importance of finally putting into full effect a strong law to govern all aspects of the procurement process, ensuring that taxpayers get full value for their money.
This is long overdue.