Public procurement in The Bahamas: the e-Procurement Supplier Registry

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

In part two of my article’s series, I spoke briefly about the Bahamas government’s e-Procurement Supplier Registry and today I wish to elaborate more on the electronic portal.

The eProcurement Supplier Registry was launched by the Ministry of Finance on December 19, 2017 and at that time, the then Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Peter Turnquest announced, “This government administration is keeping its promise to bring greater accountability, transparency and modernity to The Bahamas government by changing how persons and businesses bid for government purchasing opportunities, otherwise known as procurement.”

“Procurement will move from a very paper-based, time-consuming process to an online automated system that utilises standardised forms, with clearly defined evaluation criteria. Interested bidders can prepare and submit documents through the online portal, which will be known as the E-Tendering and Supplier Registrar System.

“More importantly, these initiatives will leap the country forward in terms of having transparent and accountable use of public resources that will ultimately expand opportunities for a greater number of Bahamian businesses and save taxpayers some money in the process.”

The DPM said the government is a major procurer of goods, works and services in the country, spending in excess of $1.475 billion to deliver public services.

“This underscores the importance of having in place effective, fair and efficient procurement arrangements, to ensure that the best value is obtained for the monies being spent,” he said.

Again on November 29, 2018, while opening the Ministry of Finance’s E-Procurement reform seminar, which was held at Pelican Bay Resort, Freeport, as well as officially launching the E-Procurement and Supplier Registry System in Freeport, the then deputy prime minister said, “The whole idea of the reform is to make the process of government procurement transparent and to ensure that there is fairness across the system, so that everyone has an opportunity.”

Turnquest said, “I know that for most businesses in The Bahamas that I have come across, one of the things that they have been concerned about is fairness and access.”

He also said, “We know how it worked in the past, where if your party is in power you get the contracts and when your party is not in power, you’re out of luck. This system seeks to try to create some balance, some equity and fairness across the system, so that we can take out these kinds of bias.

“If we allow the system to work the way it has been designed to work, it is going to create equity and it will result in savings and GDP business growth for all Bahamians.”

More recently on March 15, 2021, Minister of Financial Services, Trade and Industry and Immigration Elsworth Johnson, on closing the debate on the Public Procurement Bill, said, “For about five years or more persons have been discussing the necessity of having an electronic process, how persons would tender, how they would appeal as, Killarney said, and how persons can be treated justly.”

It was just last month that the Department of Immigration engaged a vendor to provide meals for the detainees of the Detention Centre. The electronic process and the print media were not used to invite bids for this service, as prescribed by the government’s tender process for any contract in excess of $50,000.

In 2018, the Committee of Experts of the Follow-Up Mechanism on the Implementation of The Inter-American Convention Against Corruption, (MESICIC), of which the Bahamas is a signatory since 1998, visited The Bahamas and interviewed myself and other officials from the Ministry of Finance to follow up on the public procurement reform process. This was part of a series of visits and this one was considered as Round 5.

In their final report dated September 18, 2018, MESICIC made a recommendation that The Bahamas government should consider enacting a new comprehensive legal and regulatory framework which encompasses all the branches and agencies of the state applicable to government procurement of goods, works, and services and embodies the principles of openness, equity, and efficiency upheld in the convention; and to establish a centralized registry of contractors of works, goods or services, mandatory to all state bodies and dependencies, which contemplate the possibility to ensure that such registration also include a list of sanctioned contractors, in order to foster the principles of openness, equity and efficiency provided for in the convention.”

It has been two years and seven months since its initial launch and two years since all government ministries, agencies and state-owned enterprises were mandated to use the portal for all procurements.

To date, there are 2,266 vendors who have registered on the system. However, 208 of them will not receive email notices of the opportunities available to them, because since the departure of the international consultant and the procurement officer of the Ministry of Finance in March of this year, the ministry lacked the ability to approve these vendors on the system electronically, causing these vendors grave inconveniences.

The same dilemma exists for new buyers and those sending in requests for technical assistance via email. Approximately four months have passed now and the Ministry also has yet to hire an IT systems manager to manage the system to address the situations mentioned above and more.

The following is a list of ministries, agencies. departments and state-owned enterprises that have not registered on the e-Procurement Supplier Registry to date:

• Ministry of Financial Services, Trade and Industry and Immigration;

• Ministry of Foreign Affairs; 

• Office of the Governor-General;

• Ministry of Education;

• Ministry of National Security;

• Office of the Attorney General & Ministry of Legal Affairs;

• Office of the Prime Minister;

• Ministry of Public Service and National Insurance;

• Ministry of Social Services & Urban Development;

• Ministry of Tourism and Aviation;

• Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture;

• Department of Archives;

• Business Licence – Valuation Unit;

• Department of Cooperatives Development;

• Court of Appeal;

• Department of Education;

• Fire Services;

• Forestry Unit;

• HIV-AIDS Centre;

• Department of Housing;

• Department of Immigration;

• Office of Internal Audit;

• Department of Labour;

• Department of Meteorology;

• National Anti-Drug Secretariat;

• National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA);

• Port Department;

• Post Office Department;

• Department of Public Health;

• Department of Public Prosecutions;

• Registrar Generals Department;

• Department of Road Traffic;

• Royal Bahamas Police Force;

• Royal Bahamas Police Force – Grand Bahama;

• Department of Social Services;

• Department of Statistics (Nassau);

• Supreme Court;

• Bahamas Electricity Corporation (BEC);

• Bahamas Environment, Science and Technology Commission (BEST);

• Bahamas Investment Authority;

• Bahamas Maritime Authority;

• Bahamas Trade Commission;

• Bahamasair Holding Ltd.;

• Bank of The Bahamas;

• The Central Bank of The Bahamas;

• Compliance Commission;

• Office of the Data Protection Commissioner;

• Hotel Corporation of The Bahamas;

• Nassau Flight Services;

• Securities Commission of The Bahamas;

• University of The Bahamas;

• Utilities Regulations & Competition Authority (URCA).

It is my understanding that the Ministry of Finance is aggressively attempting to have all of these departments on the system by September. Instead of trying to reach an unrealistic deadline to just populate the ePSR. They need to take a more strategic approach to yield the best results by first concentrating on the agencies that have a larger capital works and services budget as these are high in value and should be placing their request for bids on the portal. This would enhance transparency, ensure value for money and create an equal opportunity for the vendors in their respective industries. These agencies are:

• Department of Public Works;

• The Public Hospitals Authority;

• Bahamas Power and Light;

• Department of Education;

• Water and Sewage Corporation;

• Royal Bahamas Police Force;

• Royal Bahamas Defence Force.

Secondly, to support these large procurements they ought to ensure that the Tenders Board Governance module is installed and the board gets trained in order to make the necessary approvals or recommendation; after all, the developer was paid $60,000 since February of this year.

If one was to go to suppliers.gov.bs and search opportunities, you would find that out of the 36 agencies that are registered on the system, there are only four that are actively using it for most of their procurements and they are:

• The National Insurance Board;

• Ministry of Agriculture and Marine Resources;

• Bahamas Department of Correctional Services;

• Royal Bahamas Defence Force.

Our sister Caribbean nations such as Jamaica (www.gojep.gov.jm) the Cayman Islands (www.cayman.bonfirehub.com) and Trinidad & Tobago (www.ttconnect.g) have e-Procurement Systems as well, and on searching their opportunities a large variety of bids for goods works and services are listed. This is extremely different from what is seen on The Bahamas suppliers.gov.bs, as our requests for bids are primarily for goods.

As we are now in an election period, there are almost daily announcements by the government on project contract awards, none of which are reaching the portal. The former deputy prime minister and minister of finance meant well when he launched the ePSR. I wonder what he would say now as there is surely a lack of transparency in public procurement at the moment.

The IDB’s Economic and Financial Analysis 2015 conducted on The Bahamas’ procurement system reported that the implementation of an e-procurement system is going to provide more transparency and more competition in the different procurement processes, which will generate savings in the acquisition of goods and services.

Let’s hope that the Public Procurement Act will come into force soon so we can actualize these changes.

• Daniel Ferguson, MCIPS, is 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, a network supported by the Organization of American States, Caribbean Development Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank.

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