Op-Ed

Public procurement in The Bahamas – is it foolishness?

I do realize that during this election season in The Bahamas there will be a lot of political rhetoric spoken whilst the various parties are on the election trail, and some of it is not worth responding to.

In my case, I am being very careful how and what I respond to, because as a professional I wish to remain unbiased in every situation.

I must say though, that for the Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis to seemingly conclude that allegations made against both Messrs. Desmond Bannister and Adrian Gibson is foolishness is highly irresponsible, particularly on the eve of the enactment of the Public Procurement Act 2021, which came into force on September 1, 2021.

The international procurement consultant employed by the Ministry of Finance stated in his final report: “The resistance to the public procurement reform from top-level political positions and senior-level management officials in government as well as from members of Parliament has also obstructed progress regarding the new public procurement legislation development and implementation of new procurement tools”.

If re-elected, would the Minnis administration resist the implementation of the Public Procurement Act’s activities?

Well, this may be the very beginning of this resistance to transparency and accountability because Minister of Public Works Desmond Bannister, Executive Chairman of the Water and Sewerage Corporation (WSC) Adrian Gibson and the prime minister have all failed to answer key questions regarding the award of the contracts being discussed.

Our international partners and stakeholders, such as the IDB, IMF, Caribbean Development Bank, the World Bank, the United States State Department and the OAS committee against corruption are all watching and listening, and I am certain asking the same questions.

Clearly, this is a poor example emanating from the political directorate because in the ensuing months the Bahamian public procurement officers of the civil service will have to undergo serious cultural changes; from having ministers dictating to them which one of their constituents should get a contract to making these decisions as a committee themselves, and will have to change their modus operandi of using the selective bidding process when it ought to be competitive.

Further, they will be required to advertise the awardees of all major contracts.

Just last week, I had a personal experience with regards to the Department of Public Works selective bidding process. The department had employed a contractor to place a basketball court, a tennis court among other facilities on the park in the subdivision in which I reside and was insistent that the work begin immediately.

The total value of the contract I understand was about $150,000. What was astonishing was that this bid to upgrade this park was never advertised in the newspapers nor on the e-procurement Supplier Registry.

I would assume that these park upgrades are those the minister of public works spoke about during his budget presentation. These funds should have been diverted to be spent on our collapsed public health system.

I believe that the Department of Public Works should be made to answer the following questions:

• Why was this park bid done selectively?

• Was the contractor paid in advance?

• Can you confirm the dollar value of this contract?

If they can’t, perhaps the documents can find its way to me.

From January 2019 to March 2021, I had personally spearheaded the training of over 60 engineers, quantity surveyors and electricians from the Department of Public Works on the use of the e-Procurement Supplier Registry.

To date, if you were to search the supplier registry you would note that only three employees from the Department of Public Works are utilizing the systems for goods, works and services.

I commend them; however, this lack of interest to be transparent and to utilize the competitive bidding processes does not only lie at the feet of the political directorate but also senior civil servants who find themselves falling prey to their ministers’ political agenda.

Successive governments have used this modus operandi before but civil servants now have relief to object what they would consider contrary to the Public Financial Management Act 2021 as in PART II – Roles and Responsibilities Section 15 it states:

15. Objection to direction.

(1) A public officer or public office holder who is directed by any minister of the government or any public officer or public office holder to do anything that he knows or has reason to believe is contrary to this act or any other act, shall –

(a) object in writing to the minister giving the direction, or the public officer or public office holder giving the direction;

(b) provide a copy of the objection to the permanent secretary if the permanent secretary is not the public officer or public office holder who gave the direction; and

(c) provide a copy of the objection to two of the following persons – (i) the chairperson of the Public Service Commission; (ii) the attorney general; or (iii) the financial secretary

There is no need to become complicit in any illegal activities.

“One must talk less about transparency but strive to be transparent. “

 • Daniel Ferguson, MCIPS is a retired chief petty officer, RBDF, lead investigator 2004 Lorequin Commission of Inquiry, a former procurement officer of the Ministry Health and Ministry of Finance and former component coordinator for the IDB sponsored Public Financial Management Reform Project, in particular the Public Procurement Reform. He led the drafting team for the development of the Public Procurement Bill 2021, Public Procurement Regulations, assisted with the creation of The University of The Bahamas professional procurement officers training framework and managed the development of the e-Procurement Supplier Registry. He is a chartered member of the Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply with over 25 years of experience in public procurement. He was the Caribbean’s representative to the International Network of Public Procurement Officers for the years 2019-2021. The network is supported by both the Organization of American States, Caribbean Development Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank.

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