There should be a return to proven procurement procedures

Dear Editor,

Since the calamity of the power barge purchase some time in the ’80s, not much has changed in respect of procurement practices in government. What led to the scandal of the barge purchase was never corrected, ie the failure to pursue tried and proven procurement procedures. There should be a return to such procedures.

I write from a background of 14 years sitting on the Central Tender Board and National Tender Committee in Guyana whilst at the Government Supply Division and Ministry of Trade, and did have my say on critical purchases. I was no push-over on this procedure, and any dissent on an item was on the written record. No one minister could instruct that austere body then.

The power barge  acquisition was not passed through this procedure.In initiating the purchase of any equipment, a tender would be published. More than one bidder would be invited in the press to vie for the deal. If tender procedures were followed and a piece of equipment from a specific supplier was competitive, a trained and qualified inspector/specialist would be dispatched to look at and verify the ‘worthiness’ of the equipment. His fee was a meagre percentage of the cost of the equipment agreed on beforehand.

The inspector here was like a middle man. This was the procedure which was shed to facilitate the barge purchase. Sometimes a large (expensive) item was offered for sale by some agent who had contacts with a foreign supplier. Here the item still had to pass the National Tender Committee  (in a round-robin  if very urgent) for each member’s comment, and inspection by a specialist.

The specialist then would issue upon his honour and a suitable penalty by contract, a certificate attesting to the worthiness of the equipment. Such a procedure prefaced the procurement of all valuable equipment in the past, through the Crown Agents in London. There was no rush through the tender procedures and every member of the tender board had to have his say before the decision to procure was effected.

When the Crown Agents issued a certificate supporting the purchase and shipment of equipment overseas, it was done with the credibility of the Queen’s agents at stake. You were guaranteed the ‘worthiness’ of the equipment with likely recall at the expense of the Crown Agents (which in my recollection had no reason to be pursued. Failing this a lot of shady purchases were executed and the taxpayer made to bear the cost in the final analysis.

Yours faithfully,
Seopaul Singh

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