By NATARIO McKENZIE
Tribune Business Reporter
THE absence of a transparent public procurement system has increased the Bahamas’ cost of doing business, the Chamber of Commerce’s chairman said yesterday, at the launch of the Government’s e-tendering system.
The system, which will also feature a supplier registry, is targeted to come online in February 2018 in a bid to enhance ‘value for money’ for taxpayers, improve tendering competitiveness and openness, and create an equitable playing field for all bidders. Mike Maura, speaking at the launch, said government procurement - the bidding and awarding of public sector contracts - has been the subject of persistent mismanagement complaints for decades.
“The absence of a transparent procurement system increases the cost of doing business and the cost of building in the Bahamas. The consequences associated with poor procurement include higher taxes, higher public debt, widespread inefficiency and a higher total cost for all of us,” said the Chamber chairman.
K Peter Turnquest, the Deputy Prime Minister, said enactment of the Public Procurement Bill 2018 was scheduled for early in the New Year. It is designed to strengthen the regulatory and enforcement framework around government procurement.
Through the bill, a Public Procurement Department and a Public Procurement Board will be established.
A Public Review Tribunal will also be established “to give recourse to persons who believe there have been an injustice rendered to them during the tendering process”.
Mr Turnquest said the new system will offer transparency. “There will be complete visibility,” he added. “All qualifying Bahamian businesses will be able to register to do business consistent with qualifications.
“Moreover, all persons visiting the portal will be able to view business opportunities, know all the offers available, monitor the process, see who is awarded contracts and at what price, and the justification behind the award.”
Mr Turnquest added: “There is tracking of every decision along the procurement chain. All bid forms are item stamped, which prevents interference following the close of bids, and every action taken by government personnel within the system is tracked.”
He said $331,396 has been pegged as the cost for the project’s first phase, agreeing that it was expected to bring “significant savings” for the Government.
Other private sector executives were equally enthusiastic. Leonard Sands, the Bahamian Contractors Association’s (BCA) president, said the proposed e-tendering and supplier registry system was a “significant” undertaking that should provide greater transparency.
“I think it could provide a better and clearer understanding of government spending,” he told Tribune Business. “I think transparency would help, and that is not to say that the public tender process when it works isn’t transparent, but what we recognise is that on too many occasions there has been an abuse of process by ministers directing decisions post the Tenders Board process.
“If this process, when implemented, removes the ministerial control in the awarding of contracts, and the process is transparent allowing persons to see who the qualified bidder is based on cost, value and experience, then I think we will see positive results,” said Mr Sands.
Mr Turnquest said the e-tendering and supplier registry system will come on stream on February 5, 2018, and “fundamentally change the way we do business”, allowing the Bahamas to align its procurement activities and systems with international standards and best practices.
During the first phase of the project, potential suppliers will be able to register on the online portal; registered vendors will receive notifications when requests for tenders are uploaded to the system; and interested bidders will be able to prepare and submit bidding documents through the online portal before deadline.