Anna-Lisa Paul and Bobie-Lee Dixon
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Loopholes in new bill says Balgobin
The Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Property Bill does not properly address issues of crime and criminality, Independent Senator Dr Rolph Balgobin said late Tuesday in his contribution to the debate on the legislation in the Senate. While the bill says suppliers cannot get public funds if convicted for criminal offences related to their profession, he said, that did not rule out the possibility of criminals being successful in public procurement matters.
“The way that crime and criminality works in this country is there are a great many criminals who are doing business with the State who are guilty of no professional misconduct whatsoever,” Balgobin said. “They have no profession, or if they do, theirs is a criminal profession.
“We should not be giving public money to criminals. That has been done over and over again in the history of this country and it is offensive for it to be made a political issue when this has spanned various administrations. It has grown into a monster that we are not really able to contend with,” he added. The Independent Senator said the bill did not take account of situations where a supplier might be a criminal or is in charge of a criminal enterprise.
He said: “If we have intelligence, if we are aware that someone is a criminal ... they can’t get public money. Public money is what people who pay taxes pay. I don’t want to pay you to rob me. Of worse, I don’t want to pay you to kill me which is happening more and more often.”
Balgobin described the bill as a “tortured piece of legislation if ever there was one,” noting that governments in T&T have not been able to escape “the stain of corruption related to public procurement.” He also said the issue of corruption in the context of public procurement “has injured our view of people in public life.” Balgobin said he did not agree with the proposal for the Salaries Review Commission (SRC) to determine renumerations for members of the board dealing with public procurements.
“If you don’t pay people well here, watch them take bribes. Just watch them,” he said. According to the senator, the SRC was “still operating with an embedded logic that has gone well past its sell by date perpetrating an artificial discount for public work. “This is a really bad idea and these people should be paid market rates,” he said.
On the issue of local content, Balgobin said the legislation did not go far enough. He said public procurement could serve as a development tool if the private sector had an opportunity to work and local content was offered space and an opportunity to bid. “More attention should be paid to improving the standards of supply. Public procurement can be a mechanism by which providers of goods and services really raise their game. We can raise the bar to get world class standards,” he said.
When Balgobin completed his contribution at 7.55 pm, the Senate was adjourned to May 27 at 11 am.