0

‘Live up to’ Public Procurement law

photo

MATT AUBRY

By NEIL HARTNELL

Tribune Business Editor

nhartnell@tribunemedia.net

The Bahamas must “live up to the letter and intent of the law” on public procurement, a governance reformer urged yesterday, as he hailed the unveiling of the Government’s new and upgraded tender portal.

Matt Aubry, the Organisation for Responsible Governance’s (ORG) executive director, told Tribune Business it was vital that The Bahamas had taken “tangible steps forward” to make the awarding of government contracts more open, transparent and accessible (see articles on Page 22 B) after progress had stalled following the Public Procurement Act’s implementation during the Minnis administration’s final days.

Asserting that it was critical that the Government now “build trust in the system” that all bidders will be treated fairly, and have an equal opportunity to provide goods and services to the public sector, he also called for it to “follow the rule of law” by adhering to the existing legislation.

The Davis administration has branded the current Public Procurement Act as unworkable in practice because it imposes too many onerous and bureaucratic requirements on government to the point where it cannot function efficiently. However, it has not published details on the winning bidders, the nature of the contract, and the total amount awarded for all government contracts issued between September 1 and end-July 2022 as the law stipulates.

“I think all told I’m really glad it’s out,” Mr Aubry told this newspaper regarding yesterday’s launch of the upgraded electronic procurement portal. “We had a chance to see it last week; a little bit of a preview. It seems to be organised in a relatively user friendly way, and it’s good folks can register on the site and find out about opportunities. There are a lot of opportunities coming up very shortly, and they only have a few days to submit.

“We need to make tangible steps forward. It’s been a year since the Act was enacted. We haven’t seen full enactment; the listing of all bids or the publishing or the publishing of awarded contracts.” 

The law presently requires the Government and all its ministries, departments and agencies to publish - within 60 days of every contract award - the winning bidder’s name and address; contract amount; bid title; name of the procuring entity; and bidding method used. This means that all government contracts awarded up to August 3 should now have been publicly declared, but none have.

The Davis administration has argued that its predecessor’s failure to follow the necessary public service protocols, and appoint a chief procurement officer to oversee the Act’s implementation, meant it is impossible for the Government to reveal these contract details. However, Tribune Business’ analysis of the Act did not reveal anything to suggest disclosure hinges on such an appointment.

Mr Aubry said The Bahamas’ efforts at public procurement reform had been “more aspirational in the past” than reality, but progress was now being made by both the current and former administration. Asked about the need for the Government to comply with the existing Act’s contract award disclosure requirements, the ORG chief replied: “It’s critical for a few reasons.

“It’s critical that The Bahamas lives up to the letter and intent of the law. Following the rule of law, that needs to be demonstrated by the Government. That’s critical because so many vendors have scepticism that the process will be open and fair because they’ve not seen that or in their experience that has not been the case for many decades. We need to build trust in the system.”

Mr Aubry said a properly functioning, transparent and open public procurement system where all bidders have an equal chance will make the Bahamian economy more competitive. “The Government will have a more competitive choice in selection, and it will give citizens confidence that their tax money is being used to the greatest effect,” he added. “There’s a lot of advantages, a lot of benefits to getting it right.”

The Public Procurement Act, passed by Parliament under the former Minnis administration and brought into effect on September 1 last year, was intended to end the patronage system that has dominated the awarding of government contracts for decades with bids going to political supporters, family, friends, lovers and others with the right connections as opposed to being issued on merit.

Implemented just two weeks before the general election, it was also intended to bring greater transparency and efficiency to the millions of dollars awarded in public sector contracts annually by having the process held out in the open. And, especially given the country’s present fiscal challenges, the law was designed to generate value for money for Bahamian taxpayers by ensuring the best bidder won the contract, thus reducing if not eliminating any wastage and corruption.

However, the Act has been the subject of an intense political battle for much of the past year which culminated in last week’s threat by the Opposition Free National Movement (FNM) to initiate a Judicial Review legal action in the Supreme Court over the Davis administration’s alleged violations of the Act by failing to publish details of contract awards.

However, the Davis administration has argued that the legislation is overly-bureaucratic and cumbersome, making it unworkable in practice. It says this has ensnared simple purchases in red tape, and added to costs and inefficiency, even though clause 34’s “limited bidding” provides for emergency contracts. It also pointed out that the accompanying regulations and guidance notes, and multiple other requirements needed to give the law effect, were never put in place.

Comments

Sickened 2 months ago

Matt, you seriously asking and expecting the PLP (or any of its followers) to follow a law - any law???? ROFL. You mussy drinking' huh?

0

baha_man2022 1 month, 4 weeks ago

Why follow the law when you can just change it? Who cares about us, the peepz!

0

Sign in to comment