delegation of the European Union

The delegation of the European Union announced in December last year that it had signed an agreement for the provision of technical assistance to the Office of Procurement Regulation (OPR). The technical assistance programme will be implemented by Ecorys, an international policy research and consultancy company from the Netherlands, over a period of one year at a cost of €98,636.

Through the programme, training will be provided to OPR staff and other stakeholders in a number of areas including advanced procurement, forensic auditing and fraud and investigation. It will also include technical editing of the existing handbook on public procurement, retention and disposal.

PHOTO CAPTION OPR chairman, Moonilal Lalchan, left, and EU Ambassador, HE Aad Biesebroek, shake hands after the contract meeting.

AS FAR as I know, there has been no response from Finance Minister Imbert to the points raised in the previous article. Of course no response is required, but given the importance of the issue and the highly-engaged communication style of that Minister, I certainly had cause for a pause.

This article will continue last week’s examination of the delays, but first, some background.

The new Public Procurement system replaces the Central Tenders Board, so it is useful to note that although the CTB Act is a 1961 law, the first board was not sworn-in until 1966 – a full five years after the law.

Note well, too, that this was at a period when the CTB Act had the full support of the first PNM administration of Dr Eric Williams and the opposition forces were then a mere shadow of their current selves.

Given that background, what can we make of these delays in getting the Office of Procurement Regulation (OPR) up and running? Firstly, even though the Act is No. 1 of 2015, the first OPR Board was appointed two years ago, in January 2018, under the chairmanship of Moonilal Lalchan.

The JSC Report of 6th May 2019 gives insight into some issues in its Summary of Evidence, Findings and Recommendations:

Infrastructure

“...13. Discussions were carried out with iGovTT and the Ministry of Public Administration for the supply of three-hundred and sixty-five (365) Microsoft Office Licenses by November 2018...” (pg 27)

Given that the OPR’s staff is 37 persons, with a Board of 11 members, I find that to be a great investment in Microsoft. But perhaps the reference was a misprint?

Finances and Funding

“...18. To cover the costs associated with recurrent expenditure and establishing the office, the OPR requested $17, 963,331 for fiscal 2018/2019. The sum allocated was $17, 857, 780...”

Recurrent expenditure seems to have been well provided.

“...19. Under the State’s ‘Development Programme’ the amount requested from the Ministry of Finance Budget Division for fiscal 2018/2019 was $3,600,000, but the sum actually allocated was one million $1,000,000...”

The allocation for capital development – of databases etc – seems to have been under-served.

What is at stake?

We need to understand what is at stake here, as these are monumental, institution-building decisions.

The OPR is meant to provide proper control and oversight of the huge variety of large-scale transactions in public money undertaken by the State and its agencies. The OPR has to be properly funded and ready to undertake its serious responsibilities, if it is to have the intended effect. The epic waste and theft of public money is a scourge on our nation and its practitioners are so skilled at these wily and sometimes brazen acts that it is vital for the public interest to be served by a solid and well-prepared OPR.

The $20 million or so which the OPR will need for its annual expenditure in its initial stages is a serious investment in our collective future, which we would expect to have an immediate, noticeable effect in curtailing the high levels of waste and theft of public money.

It is clear to me that a well-operated OPR would have a salutary effect on how our public service operates. The money spent on the OPR would be money gained in terms of savings, all in service of conserving scarce public money.

But we need to be equally clear that it is not only in terms of public financial management that the OPR’s work is potentially transformative. Most of the major transactions in our country involve the State or its agencies and there is a widespread impression that those dealings are mostly turbid, to put it in its best light. This is a long-overdue and critical attempt to restore confidence and comfort in our public services. Indeed, in our very selves.

Afra Raymond is a Chartered Surveyor, Managing Director of Raymond & Pierre Limited and Past-President of the Joint Consultative Council for the Construction Industry (JCC) - this discussion is hosted at afraraymond.net.

/Users/afra/Documents/Public Procurement Delays.docx

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