It is disappointing that the protracted and circuitous effort to establish a proper procurement regime in this country is still ongoing.
Although the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Property Act, 2015, was assented to seven years ago and subsequently amended by the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Property (Amendment) Act, 2016, it has only been partially proclaimed.
This sorry situation was revealed by Procurement Regulator Moonilal Lalchan who, in testimony before Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) on Wednesday, described the Office of Procurement Regulation (OPR) as “toothless.”
This is an entity which, according to the act, will conduct audits and periodic inspections of public bodies, issue directions to them and, where applicable, fines of up to $100,000 can be imposed for failure to comply.
Unfortunately, after all this time the OPR is still unable to do that and, therefore, cannot challenge companies that fail to adhere to proper procurement practices.
Mr Lalchan told the PAC that the OPR has not been able to respond to requests to investigate 18 matters or send findings to the Director of Public Prosecutions in instances where breaches have been discovered.
This is unacceptable in a country with well-documented cases of corruption involving public funds and a history of stop and start attempts to introduce anti-corruption and procurement legislation dating as far back as 1997.
After all those years, the current situation of the partial proclamation of Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Property Act means that the 60-year-old Central Tenders Board Act, chap. 72:91 has not yet been repealed and replaced.
By now the OPR should have had full oversight of public procurement and disposal contracts which its staff has been diligently preparing to take on since 2019.
At the time that the Act was assented to in January 2014, the nation was told that partial proclamation of the legislation was necessary to properly establish the new public procurement scheme, including the appointment of the Procurement Regulator and setting up the OPR.
One would have thought by now that all operations, functions, posts, and protocols would have been fully in place. Instead, after seven years, T&T is awaiting the promised “seamless adjustment” to this long-needed procurement regime.
Procurement laws exist to ensure an open, fair, and competitive procurement process to ensure value for money, prevent corruption and increase competition—objectives that should be top priorities for any administration.
How long must this nation linger on the cusp of sound procurement policy and practice? Why wasn’t full proclamation of the act given higher priority?
Now more than ever, after years of declining revenue and economic stagnation exacerbated by two years of a global pandemic, there is a need to reduce public expenditure, waste, delays, and inefficiency.
This is something which should be appreciated by Finance Minister Colm Imbert under whose purview the OPR falls. Hopefully, following today’s sitting of Parliament, the final hurdle in the way of full implementation will be crossed.