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The draft Procurement Bill, leaves procurement by the State and State-owned companies wide open to corruption and is a “waste of time” in its present state, said Winston Riley, chairman of the Public Sector/Civil Society Group on Public Procurement.
“You can burn the bill as it is a waste of time. There are loans from the international lending agencies for the procurement of goods, works and/or services that are outside of the remit of the Procurement Bill. We know that over 50 per cent of procurement for goods, works and services in our region is outside regulations. “With our approach of government to government it is about 70 per cent in T&T. So what are you having the Procurement Bill for? We are wasting time,” he told the Guardian yesterday in a telephone interview.
In the first week of April, the Procurement Bill was brought to the Senate by Planning Minister Bhoe Tewarie, who said the bill would not be debated until three weeks have elapsed to allow time for public scrutiny and discussion. Tewarie said the bill was finally approved by the Legislative Review Committee (LRC) on March 17 and subsequently approved by the Cabinet on March 20.
Riley describes Clause 7 of the bill as “disturbing” and said this clause, which excludes government-to-government arrangements from the purview of the legislation, should be removed. “Clause 7 states that the act does not apply to the procurement of goods, works or services arising out of a treaty to which T&T is a party with one or more states or with an international lending agency. Any international treaty that has to do with goods or services is outside the bill.
“The Prime Minster just came back from China with billions of dollars worth of investment. There are other government-to-government arrangements on the cards with Austria and Canada. There is the SNC Lavalin matter where the question of the sovereignty of the nation was in question. “If we allow countries to do what they want and choose who they want, then we have left out procurement itself. The core issues in any procurement legislation are accountability, transparency and the efficient use of public money.
“Just look at the massive expenditure spent on the National Academy for Performing Arts (Napa) and the Southern Academy for Performing Arts (Sapa) after they were opened.” Riley said the issue of procurement legislation goes back many years. He said 35 years ago the then administration amended the Central Tenders Board Act to exclude government-to-government contracts from the scrutiny of the Central Tenders Board.
As a result of that, the government was able to proceed with government-to-government contracts. In an attempt to bypass the public sector slowness, administrations have also set up a plethora of special purpose state-owned enterprises “which destroyed all of our institutions responsible for the delivery of good, works and services utilising public money in T&T. Even now the boards are just areas where you distribute political patronage,” he said.
He said there were “shocking” things in the first two or three drafts of the bill. “The bill was a complete replica of several bills. It was highly regulatory, thus in contradiction with Parliament’s directives. The very foundation of the earlier versions of the draft bill was wrong in the first place.” He criticised the Opposition for asking the Government to set up a policy position on the bill as he said this had been done before.
“What has been surprising to us was that the Opposition asked the Government to put up a policy position which will carry the whole process backward. The White Paper was accepted as far back as the first budget speech of this Government. I do not wish to comment on why they did this.” Despite this, he said he is in discussions with the Government.
“The major objective is that Clause 7 must be deleted or redrafted before the bill comes for debate in Parliament. I am still in consultation with the Minister of Planning on this issue. We are still hoping changes and amendments will be made to the Bill before it is debated.”