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Finance under secretary: Govt cannot circumvent new procurement processes

Each government entity will have its own procurement unit and tender committee

The government will not be able to circumvent the measures put in place by the Public Procurement Act when it takes effect on September 1, as all government departments will be governed by the act, Under Secretary in the Ministry of Finance Gaynell Rolle said yesterday.

This comes on the heels of Auditor General Terrance Bastian revealing that the government did not disclose the names of the beneficial owners of companies that received payments for the delivery of goods and services related to COVID-19, despite the request being made.

Rolle, during a press conference yesterday morning to educate the public on public procurement and public finance management, explained that each government entity will have its own procurement unit and tender committee in order to award contracts from within their own budgets, “reducing the bottlenecks experienced under the previous model” and allaying concerns about transparency and corruption.

Rolle added that in order to increase transparency, a detailed monthly report on contracts awarded will be published when the act comes into force next month.

She added that the law will not allow any leeway for the government to circumvent the processes.

“Our transparency includes a monthly report on all of the contracts that have been awarded, to whom those contracts have been awarded and the amount of those contracts that were awarded,” Rolle said. 

“So you will find coming from us a complete, transparent process from the new Public Procurement Department within the Ministry of Finance. There won’t be an overstep of the government to say ‘this is the supplier you must have’, no, we’re going to have a very transparent, efficient, operational e-procurement system that speaks to transparency and accountability and in full compliance with the Public Procurement Act.” 

The audit report on the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) disbursement of $250 million to address the COVID-19 pandemic, which was tabled in the House of Assembly yesterday, revealed that more than $63 million of the $250 million rapid financing instrument which was approved by the IMF in June 2020 was spent to pay overseas and domestic vendors. Specifically, the government spent $29,670,400 for overseas vendor payments and $33,668,242 for domestic vendor payments.

Bastian said of the audit, “We were provided with a listing of ‘suppliers of works and services’ that received payments for the delivery of goods and services related to COVID-19. A request was made for the beneficial ownership of these business entities, however, the same is pending. Reference is drawn to the law in The Bahamas governing beneficial ownership, in that confidentiality, access and use of information is legislated.”

In its most recent statement on investment in The Bahamas, the US Department of State raised continuing concerns about the transparency of The Bahamas’ procurement processes and the perception of corruption that persists within it.

According to Rolle, the Ministry of Finance is currently looking for a chief procurement officer to head its Public Procurement Department.

The new law governing procurement is designed to increase accountability, transparency and reduce the risk of political interference and nepotism. It also ensures that government does not overlook small and medium-sized businesses when it comes to issuing contracts.

“Government departments and agencies can use several different approaches to find the right suppliers of goods and services for government contracts. The law clearly defines rules regarding requests for quotations or proposals, limited, selective or restricted bidding; and international bidding,” Rolle said.

“The new law requires every government agency to produce a detailed procurement plan at the start of the budget year and publish this report on the official website of the Public Procurement Department. This report will include a detailed breakdown of their procurement needs, estimated contract values and how the goods and services will be used.

“Lastly, the new law makes special provisions for the minister to allocate a percentage of the procurement budget to small businesses, which are businesses with no more than a maximum of 50 employees and revenue under $1 million annually.”

Rolle said more than 2,200 businesses have signed on to the e-procurement website and more than 33 agencies have been trained to use the new methods to award contracts. She added that the Public Finance Management Act, Public Debt Management Act and the Statistics Act came into force on July 1 and along with the Public Procurement Act were “designed to raise the standard of existing government processes to meet global best practices with a focus on transparency and accountability”.

Rolle noted that the Public Financial Management Act introduces something called an “objection to direction” which allows a public officer to dispute a directive given if they feel it breaches process and protocol.

“Essentially if a public officer feels as though they were given a direction that goes against the act or any other legislation, there is now a legal process that empowers public servants to formally object,” she said.

“This involves a written objection to the minister or public officer that gave the direction with further oversight by at least two other stakeholders, including the permanent secretary, the chairman of the Public Service Commission, attorney general or financial secretary.

“The intent here is to provide a way for public officers to uphold their oath while protecting themselves against future liability.”

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Chester Robards

Chester Robards rejoined The Nassau Guardian in November 2017 as a senior business reporter. He has covered myriad topics and events for The Nassau Guardian. Education: Florida International University, BS in Journalism

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