In Theory: Procurement in T&T

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Alicia Chamely
By Alicia Chamely

IN  theory, the Pub­lic Pro­cure­ment and Dis­pos­al of Pub­lic Prop­er­ty Act of 2015 should have helped ensure transparency, efficiency and value for money in the awarding of contracts for goods and services to the government and its various agencies. In theory.

Suppliers and contractors meeting the legal requirements to be considered would register with the Office of Procurement and Regulation via the online Procurement Depository. Their bids for contracts would go through the Procurement Regulator.

In theory, it was designed to prevent bobol. In theory, it should have worked, had it been properly managed and prepared for all circumstances.

Ahh, but yes, as always, we cannot have nice things.

Less than ten years after the Government drafted and passed the act, they have backtracked on their groundbreaking move towards preventing contract corruption. Their reason? Well… errrmm… the act doesn’t differentiate between a box of doughnuts and building a bridge. Errmm… it’s taking too long approve and disperse funds in… uhh… emergency situations.

Masters of crookery take note! As of this past week, if a Ministry or State Agency puts out a call for any service or provision of goods under $1 million you can bypass all those pesky regulations.

In theory, these exemptions are understandable, especially in truly critical circumstances whereby an unplanned or “emergency” situation has taken place and funds for services/goods are needed immediately. In theory, this would be totally fine if we lived in a purely honest society and the ills of greed and power were not deeply ingrained into our human nature.

But alas they don’t call us “Trickydadians” for no reason. These exemptions give way to Mr Jonny-Come-Lately who two weeks ago worked as a packer in hardware but has a friend of a friend in a high place and is now the owner/provider of a cutting-edge IT supply company. Thanks to his friend of a friend, he can now supply the government with all the laptops and printers it needs, all below $1 million. And he will provide them, for many months, with many small contracts.

One million dollars may not seem like much, but these exemptions allow for contract splitting and without the oversight of the Procurement Office and the general sliminess of people, we all know someone is going to get 20 $1 million contracts for boxes of photocopy paper over a period of few months. Wait! Wouldn’t it seem fishy if all the contracts were just going to one company? Child, you and I know, true masters of crookery have more than one company registered, Jonny-Come-Lately wasn’t born yesterday.

This I find ironic. After all, isn’t this what the Government accused former commissioner of police Gary Griffith of doing, splitting contracts. Didn’t Griffith give the same excuse the government is giving… the process of procurement takes too long, emergencies happen, and items/funds were needed ASAP.

By creating these exemptions, they condoned the behaviour they so brutally chastised Griffith for.

It has been argued that while these exemptions allow for the “small man” who may not have all credentials needed to be allowed access into the Procurement Depository, let us not forget with the right strings many of the “big boys” we have today, started off as the “small man” who knew how to work the system.

The Procurement Depository and its requirements are there for a reason. They exist to ensure all suppliers are legally registered, have a track record, pay and are up to date with their taxes, pay their employees’ NIS etc. They prevent Mr Jonny Come Lately and fly by night service providers who don’t know their elbow from their backside but are “experts” in engineering/security/construction and so forth.

As for the Opposition, who naturally opposed the Amendments, had they spent less time in 2015 arguing against the Act and more time working with the Government to point out any flaws or issues in a civil manner, we may not have found ourselves where we are today.

Now very rarely do I agree with the Opposition (or the Government if I am being truthful) but I must agree with Opposition Senator Jayanti Lutchmedial who said the problem was not with the system of procurement as laid out by the act, but the poor management of resources.

Poor management – the crux of our nation.

Yes, the process is tedious but had a system has been developed or a separate department been established to handle emergency or box of doughnuts-type contracts that followed the guidelines of the act in a regulated expedited fashion, we would not be in a situation where we have completely dismantled the integrity of what was meant to be transparent, fair system of procurement.

One step forward, ten steps back.

Instead of holding my breath to see how this all turns out, I’ve decided to let you all know that as of today I am a purveyor of doughnuts, stationery, toilet paper, box drains, tools, laptops and all under $1 million type of items! Don’t hate, small woman like me need a bligh, and ACham Industries, ChamA Ltd, ALC Construction, and All Kinds Of Tings Inc are here to help you, especially in an “emergency” situation!

Also don’t ask me about paying NIS for my employees, child labour is exempt. I think.


One thought on “In Theory: Procurement in T&T

  1. What about the situation of an employee who has failed to do his normal duties and procurement becomes urgent for an original non-urgent situation. Would the government shut down because of this. The bill will never address all possibilities and authority to do and post-action approval is the only answer. But we love to be stuck in blame mode while reality slips by unimpeded, regardless to what we decide. We just have to be serious about genuine solutions.

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