Between being watered down and delayed, the country’s much touted effort to rein in corruption through procurement legislation has been reduced to a damp squib.
It is going on seven years since the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Property Act was passed in Parliament.
Since then, it has been dragged through one delay after another on so many pretexts that the Government’s motives cannot escape the suspicion of sabotage.
One must pity Procurement Regulator Moonilal Lalchan and his team who have been “fully funded and ready”.
They have, nevertheless, remained in limbo for the past two years, waiting for the approval of relevant regulations which will make operational the law under which the Office is to function.
The net impact of this delay is the subversion of the work of the Office of Procurement Regulation (OPR).
Mr Lalchan has been nothing but admirably positive and proactive in his efforts to get this agenda off and running.
He has been up and down the country, meeting with stakeholder individuals, groups and agencies whose work will bring them under the ambit of his office’s authority. He has made the rounds at a number of media houses as well, taking the message about the absolute requirement for the existence of his agency. He has accomplished much more than he was ordinarily expected to in such tenuous circumstances.
To say the refusal of those charged with the responsibility to ready this ship for the rough sailing it has been established to undertake is an insult to the integrity of those appointed to steer it, is a massive understatement.
Appearing before Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee on Wednesday, Mr Lalchan disclosed that a large majority of State agencies have ignored his office’s request for information. He said nothing could be done about it since the Procurement Act is not yet fully proclaimed.
A Readiness Assessment Report reveals that the State sector is abysmally unprepared for an operational OPR.
No one should be surprised that after seven years the message of procrastination has successfully filtered down from the top through the many layers of the State.
Nevertheless, it is a slap in the face of the intent of this agency and of the legislation that gave rise to it after decades of the lament surrounding the vacuum which it now seeks to fill. Companies falling under the glare of the Office of Procurement Regulation continue to operate on the basis of “questionable procurement practices”, Mr Lalchan also told the Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee this week.
Catch us if you can, is what they are in effect telling the OPR—in fact, wagging their defiant fingers in the face of the public.
Intent on literally going where no one thus far has been able or empowered to, Mr Lalchan is stopping at nothing in his quest to do the best job he can.
He has met with the Director of Public Prosecutions and worked out means of necessary collaboration on what is a deeply embedded aspect of the national culture surrounding business conduct in the country.
For what he has already signalled, in the face of the built-in shortcomings with the authority he has been handed, he has exhibited a capacity and determination for no-nonsense.
It is long past the time when he should be given the wings with which to fly effectively.