Pintard places multiple questions on House agenda for govt to answer

Opposition Leader Michael Pintard has placed on the agenda of the House of Assembly a number of questions for the Davis administration to answer.

One of Pintard’s questions now on the agenda is: “Will the prime minister and minister of finance table in this Honourable House the list of individuals and companies who have been awarded government contracts since the PLP came to office and considering that his government is in violation of the Public Procurement Act?”

Another question is: “Will the prime minister and minister of finance advise this Honourable House why his government continues to break the law in relation to the Public Procurement Act?”

Prime Minister Philip Davis has repeatedly said the act is deficient and his administration intends to amend it.

The Public Procurement Act, passed under the Minnis administration, came into force last September, ahead of the general election.

It has been largely ignored by the Davis administration.

But last week, the Ministry of Finance announced the launch of its “new and improved” eProcurement portal “to allow the government to fulfill its commitment of transparency and ease of access to procurement opportunities as required under the Public Procurement Act, 2021”.

Last month, however, Attorney General Ryan Pinder said the government has determined that after taking an in-depth look at the legislation, “we figured a full rewrite of that legislation was necessary in order to provide more transparency and ease of administration and ability to govern effectively on that bill…”

Pintard has asked a series of other questions related to the act, including, “Is every government agency and state-owned enterprise publishing the summary details of contracts awarded consistent with the requirements of the Public Procurement Act? Which specific agencies are compliant? Which agencies are not compliant?”

The answer to the first question is clearly no.

In line with transparency, the opposition leader has asked, “What is the status of the pilot project for the rollout of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) announced in November 2021?

“What [are] the specific rollout dates for each of the agencies within the pilot project? What is the timeline for the rollout of the FOIA for all remaining public sector agencies and state-owned enterprises?”

The Minnis administration appointed an information commissioner and deputy information commissioner a few months before it left office, but the public is still not yet able to make requests for public information under the act.

Information Commissioner Keith Thompson told The Nassau Guardian earlier this month that the training of information officers for the 10 pilot agencies will start soon.

Pintard has also placed on the agenda a question related to the Fiscal Responsibility Act: “When will the government ensure that the now past due reports from the Fiscal Responsibility Council [are] provided to Parliament and published as required by the Fiscal Responsibility Act?”

Another question is: “Will the government explain to Parliament why it decided to break the law by providing a budget with a target deficit that is outside the fiscal objectives the government set in its own Fiscal Strategy Report 2021, knowing that the Fiscal Responsibility Act expressly requires the government to produce a budget consistent with the deficit targets established in the annual fiscal strategy report?”

There are several questions for the housing minister, including: “What are the terms for the contract or contracts for the development of the Pinecrest Subdivision in southern New Providence? What procurement method was used for these contracts and how many bids were received? What is the value of the contract or contracts? How much has been paid out, to date?”

Other questions are: “Will the government confirm that the provisions of the Debt Management Act were followed with the announced $20 million loan to the Ministry of Housing?

“Were the proceeds of the loan deposited in the Consolidated Fund as required by the act? Was the process to select the lender done through a competitive bidding process? Who has ultimate responsibility for repayment of the loan? What are the fees, charges and interest rates associated with the facility? Would the government lay the agreement in the House of Assembly?”

Back in May, the Ministry of Transport and Housing unveiled plans to build 200 homes as part of phase one of a housing project called The Renaissance Carmichael.

The ministry signed a loan with Simplified Lending and Proven Wealth Management to provide $20 million to assist in the development of phase one.

The opposition leader also wants the transport minister to confirm the exact number of taxi plates given out or distributed since the Progressive Liberal Party came to power.

In July, Minister of Transport and Housing JoBeth Coleby-Davis said the government has lifted its moratorium on taxi plates and roughly 300 plates will be issued.

Another question Pintard has placed on the agenda is: “Will the government provide an explanation as to whether Bahamas Power and Light (BPL) is using its operational revenue to cover the increased fuel cost to the company? If so, will the government indicate how this expenditure is to be covered and if the government will be required to provide a taxpayer funded subsidy to BPL to cover any element of the fuel expenditure?”

BPL, in recent months, has been absorbing customers’ higher fuel charges, after the prime minister announced the reversal of a decision BPL had taken to pass on the costs.

Works Minister Alfred Sears said on Monday the utility will in “short order” make an announcement relative to the fuel charge.

Pintard also wants to know the scope of works for Rothschilds & Co. in its advisory capacity with The Bahamas government and the value and duration of the contract.

Speaking in July on the government’s engagement of Rothschilds, the prime minister said, “They’re engaged to assist us in looking at the profile of our debt with the view of seeing how best we can not just meet the obligations, but how best we can not restructure, but respond to dealing with creating more headroom for the country to be able to move ahead.”

Pintard has also placed other questions on the House agenda relating to various matters in the public interest.

It is not yet known when the government intends to provide answers.

Last October, Leader of Government Business in the House of Assembly Obie Wilchcombe said the Davis administration will answer all questions posed to it in Parliament.

“We intend to answer all questions that come to Parliament because that’s our responsibility,” Wilchcombe said. 

“We’re not afraid of answering questions. The prime minister has promised transparency. We’re going to have transparency.”

The Minnis administration left office with many questions on the House agenda unanswered, despite its oft-stated commitment to accountability and transparency.

Similarly, the Christie administration left more than 200 unanswered questions on the agenda.

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Candia Dames

Candia Dames is the executive editor of The Nassau Guardian.

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