It has taken 16 years and two political administrations but at long last, albeit by a circuitous legislative route, the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Property Act, 2023, will be fully enacted next Wednesday.
The announcement of full proclamation of the long-awaited law was not completely unexpected. Earlier this year, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley promised it would be done by Easter, so Thursday’s final Cabinet approval wasn’t too far off that timeline.
Still, there have been so many stops and starts in the implementation of this procurement regime that at times, it seemed like the country would never be rid of the antiquated and inefficient Central Tenders Board (CTB) system.
With just a few days to go to complete the transition to a modern system for procuring goods and services in the public sector, citizens will finally benefit from a regime that will deliver accountability, integrity, transparency and value for money.
For many years, the opposite was true and billions of taxpayers’ dollars were often misappropriated.
That is why it is so perplexing that it took years of lobbying before lawmakers finally began to work on procurement legislation.
Many of the flaws of the former CTB regime were documented in the Ballah Report, the result of a review done by a Cabinet-appointed committee in 1982.
But that system was still in place many years later, when the 2010 Uff Commission of Enquiry into the construction sector report stated that the legislation governing the CTB was “universally perceived as imposing unnecessary constraints and bureaucracy, leading to delay and inefficiency.”
In January 2015, while the People’s Partnership was in power, the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Property Act, 2015 (the Act,) was finally passed. However, it was not proclaimed into law.
The People’s National Movement then made three amendments to the legislation and began a painfully slow process of proclaiming it in parts. This was a time-consuming exercise because the written regulations had to be submitted to the Ministry of Finance for approval before being laid and passed in Parliament.
At this stage, with all the time that has elapsed since procurement laws were first drafted and laid in Parliament, neither Government nor the Opposition should dare claim credit for finally bringing the country’s public procurement systems into the 21st century. Neither party can do so because both fell short in delivering this long overdue system.
Instead, as a matter of priority, efforts should be focused on appointing a new Procurement Regulator to replace Moonilal Lalchan, whose term expired in January.
It is unfortunate that Mr Lalchan’s tenure ended before he had the opportunity to function in a fully implemented procurement regime. However, his work in setting up all the systems and raising awareness of the value of modern processes for the procurement of goods and services in the public sector is deeply appreciated.
The very necessary oversight and control functions carried out by the Office of Procurement Regulation need to be guided by a full-time Procurement Regulator. This is a critical appointment and there should be no delay in installing a qualified professional to continue the work started by Mr Lalchan.
Once and for all, it is time to shake off all vestiges of the 1961 Central Tenders Board Act.