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Saturday, December 21, 2013
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Moonilal: Bill to deal with corruption coming to the House
The long awaited Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Property Bill 2013 aimed at ensuring transparency and accountability in the tendering and awarding of contracts will come before the House soon. Leader of Government Business Dr Roodal Moonilal promised that after the bill will be presented after the budget debate. The bill will focus on strong penalties for corruption. Also, a procurement regulator will have powers to investigate anomalies, infringements and violations.
It will also promote competitive bidding and local industry, support environmentally friendly and sustainable development products, honour enlightened labour practices and bring all state entities under the law. This comes after 40 months of clamouring from political parties, businesses and interest groups for procurement legislation under the People’s Partnership administration.
In an August 8, 2013 letter sent to Planning and Sustainable Minister Dr Bhoe Tewarie by the JCC, acting on behalf of the Private Sector/Civil Society Group, which comprise the construction industry, T&T Transparency Institute (TTTI), T&T Manufacturers’ Association and the T&T Chamber of Industry and Commerce, the groups described the bill as a preliminary draft, stating that it was unsuitable for legislative consideration.
The letter was signed by chairman Winston Riley. The JCC cited three problems with the bill.
• Reflects confused instructions on public procurement
• Does not reflect the policy indicated in the legislative proposal of the JSC report to Parliament in respect to procurement reform
• A “cut and paste” of provisions from the Equal Opportunity Act.
Last year, a report of the Joint Select Committee (JSC) on procurement, as well as a draft bill which was created through the work of a number of bodies, including the JCC, was sent to the Legislative Review Committee (LRC). The committee was chaired by Tewarie.
Ramlogan: The bill is ready
Attorney General Anand Ramlogan said a week ago that the bill was ready. “I would expect that once the Parliamentary agenda can accommodate it, it would be put on.” He said only Moonilal can say when the bill will come before the House. Pressed on the issue, Moonilal said that “as soon as the budget debate is concluded” the bill will be brought forward.
Tewarie: I am frustrated about the bill
Admitting that the bill took too long, Tewarie said, “I am quite frustrated about the bill, but I have no control over drafting of legislating. The bill was in committee for 18 months before I assumed the chair, and in spite of Opposition misbehaviour which did delay things I got consensus.” Tewarie said the JSC debated its position and got the matter passed in Parliament.
“From that point, it was not in my direct control. I pursued it doggedly nonetheless. The process was slowed when various parties asked for more time to make inputs through the legislative review process.” In the interest of democracy and good legislation, Tewarie said the Government was “hoping for reasonableness and the spirit of give and take.” Tewarie said the bill wil have “strong penalties for corruption of any kind. Also a procurement regulator would have the powers to investigate anomalies, infringements and violations.”
Asked if he expects the Opposition to support the bill, Tewarie said “I have no idea what the Opposition will do. They are prone to erratic behaviour.
Much depends on whether they are truly interested in a transparent and accountable procurement process and an enlightened system to support good government, as well as business development. I hope that in the national interest the Opposition will support.” Questioned about the issues raised by the JCC, Tewarie said, “The comments are not accurate, and an examination of the relevant documents will reveal this.”
Volney: Bill was held back for corruption, feeding frenzy
Herbert Volney, who resigned as St Joseph MP, said having served as a JSC member the legislation was deliberately held back to allow “corruption and a feeding frenzy” to take place. “You just have to look at how rich these people are today. They did not get rich from a minister’s salary.” Volney said his salary as a former judge was far more than what a minister earns today.
“Yet, I don’t have close to what they now own. As a judge, I never had more than one vehicle because that was all that I could have afforded on a tax free salary. So where do they get the money to live the lifestyle and to own the properties that they do?” Volney claimed there was over invoicing on legal fees to over invoicing for goods and services. “I am not one of those who put my finger into the cookie jar. After the next election the prisons will be full of them. They will pay for what they are doing.”
Abdulah: There is corruption
Leader of the Movement for Social Justice David Abdulah, another member on the JSC, said in 2011 “we could have come to Parliament with a draft bill, but neither the PNM and UNC were committed to legislation because it involved the establishment of a strong regulatory body which had the power to set the tender procedures and rules that would have applied to every single state enterprise, statutory bodies and government ministry.”
The JSC looked at the draft legislation which was in the form of a White Paper prepared by then prime minster Patrick Manning, who had refused to take it forward, Abdulah said.
Abdulah said the PNM frustrated the process by failing to attend the JSC’s meetings. The PNM eventually demanded that the Government put out its policy, Abdulah said. “They (the Government came up with a very loose and wishy-washy document, which had been approved by Cabinet. This ended up being the final report in 2012.” Abdulah said legislation can either be strong or weak.
“If you bring legislation that has no teeth, then in effect, there is no legislation. You really need a political party in office that has no cocoa in the sun with nepotism and patronage in the award of contracts and which is fearless in its drive against corruption. If there is corruption, and I am sure that there is, we first have to get the evidence. I don’t know under the existing arrangement if they can prosecute anybody.”
Khan: Questionable contracts
Chairman of the PNM Franklin Khan said based on what the draft looks like “we will support it.” Khan said there were million dollar projects being tendered and awarded in a questionable manner.
Ramadhar: parliamentary council overburdened
Congress of the People leader Prakash Ramadhar has credited the PP for bringing legislation to the JSC. Ramadhar said whether it took three years or a year it was brought within the party’s five-year term. “I too wish I could have pressed a button from day one and brought it in. I agree it has taken too long. There are many good reasons for that, and it is not for want of trying.”
“It had gone to the LRC, chief parliamentary council, which is overburdened to actually produce legislation. We had to wait until because there were many other important bits of information vetted by the LRC.”
Boynes: a hindrance rather than a help
Ronald Boynes, a member of the Anointed Professionals Exhibiting Excellence, a group advocating against contracts that were laced with corruption, nepotism and favouritism said they needed a lasting solution to this perennial problem. “It is not a one-off approach because procurement goes at the heart of good governance. Successive parties have spoken about it, but once we get into office we look at proper procurement as a hindrance more than a help.”
He said allegations of friends and family obtaining contracts have surfaced and there were more questions than answers. Boynes said government was trying to put forward a“watered down” bill since it failed to address the essential issue of administrative control. “I know the JCC is concerned about the suggestions put forward by the JSC. The JCC is saying it failed to address the establishment of an independent framework for the award of contracts.”
In the absence of a framework, Boynes, it leaves room for allegations of corruption. “That’s why we are not only calling for the bill to be tabled but for it to be ventilated and passed.”
Murray: Ten years to produce draft document
Director of TTTI Deryck Murray said for over ten years organisations have been working to produce a draft document. “But we are hoping that the draft presented will be the basis for the bill going forward.”
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