President of the Joint Consultative Council for the Construction Industry (JCC), Afra Raymond, says he does not believe the Government is giving the public enough time to discuss the proposed public procurement legislation.
He made the comment yesterday, in response to Planning Minister Dr Bhoendradatt Tewarie’s announcement in the Senate last week, that the bill would not be initiated until at least three weeks have elapsed to allow time for public scrutiny in keeping with commitments already made to have the proposed legislation in the public domain.
Speaking on a radio programme yesterday, Raymond, who has been in support of the public procurement law, said, “This is a very important and very complicated matter and I don’t think three weeks is sufficient,” Raymond said. He said the bill contained certain provisions which did not properly protect the public’s interest and these issues had to be be ironed out properly.
“The man in the street is well aware that this is a critical issue in the country. The stealing has a corrosive effect on the moral fibre of the country. It is creating a scenario where the only way we can have a path towards betterment in the country is to resolve this issue properly... it has to be resolved in a civilised fashion and it has to be resolved by discourse,” Raymond said.
He said the Government had the responsibility to ensure the public understands what was contained in the bill and initiate discussion with non-governmental organisations. “The tabling of the bill was done in relative quietude. One would almost say discretely. There needs to be a high impact campaign at the level of the State to engage the citizens,” he said. “If we get this right our country can turn the corner and start moving decisively towards a clear set of behaviour in public and commercial life.”
Raymond said the JCC had five key principles on public procurement which had to be present in any proper procurement law. These include:
1. Transactions of public money
2. Define properly what is a procuring agency whether a government agency, a State enterprise like Nidco or Udecott or a public/private partnership
3. There must be independent regulation. The regulator must be independently appointed, independently funded and must not be subjected to any instructions from any politician
4. There must be value for money
5. Active participation of civil society
He said in clause seven of the bill there was specific exclusion of any situations where there was a government-to-government arrangement in place, or where there was a project financed by an international financing agency. “The way things are running in this country now... we look at the Couva Children’s Hospital for instance. Most of the largest projects in the country are taking place within these two mechanisms,” Raymond said.
“So if you’re creating a law to bring about proper oversight, transparency and accountability for public money, but you are excluding most of the transactions, then we are not going very far. It’s not acceptable in the present form.”