Gov’t lining up nominees for procurement commission

-after near decade long-delay

After years of delay, the government is moving to line up its nominees for the Public Procurement Commission (PPC) in the face of continuing criticisms by the Auditor General and the opposition over breaches in the award of some contracts.

Stabroek News has been told that President Donald Ramotar has made an approach to an individual to chair the body while the names of the PPP/C’s other nominees are being mulled over.

Both the PPP/C and opposition parties have been wrangling over composition of the PPC since 2003 at the level of the National Assembly’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC), which is responsible for the selection of the nominees. In the Eight and Ninth parliaments, the opposition accused the governing party of holding up the process by failing to identify its nominees so that the selection could begin. The Constitution says the PPC is to be made up of five members, who are supposed to have “expertise and experience” in procurement, legal, financial and administrative matters. The PAC had intended to use a grading system to select the five most qualified nominees for appointment, but the process stalled when government proposed that the ruling party should nominate three of the five commission members and the opposition rejected it.

Both APNU and AFC, which hold a single-seat majority in the Parliament, had emphasised the need for the establishment of the PPC during the recent elections campaign. More recently, the opposition reiterated calls by the Auditor General for the establishment of the PPC to bring an end continued breaches of the law, such as the single sourcing of pharmaceuticals by the Ministry of Health from a private company.

In his 2010 report on the public accounts, tabled nearly two weeks ago, Auditor General Deodat Sharma again identified procurement breaches, highlighting a payment of $1.252 billion to the New Guyana Pharmaceutical Corporation (NGPC). The report highlighted the payment to the NGPC on the basis of sole sourcing that the National Procurement and Tender Administration Board approved and not by competitive bidding as required under the Procurement Act (2003). The transactions were for the procurement of drugs and medical supplies.

Members of the PAC have in the past expressed concern at the Health Ministry’s continued sourcing of drugs from the New GPC without competitive bidding, despite repeatedly promising to discontinue this practice.

“The problem is not so much the New GPC. The problem is the Ministry of Health. The ministry has to respect the rules in which it operates and the laws governing procurement,” APNU Shadow Finance Minister Carl Greenidge said in an invited comment on Thursday. Greenidge is said to be succeeding Volda Lawrence as the Chairman of the PAC, traditionally chaired by the opposition. The PAC has not yet been convened.

“…One of the things that was supposed to happen and that this National Parliament agreed, was the establishment of the Public Procurement Commission and I think that one would want to see that,” Greenidge said. “Let me say that the PAC has not yet been convened and therefore I am not in a position to speak on behalf of the committee but what I could say …in relation to the APNU is that our intention is to try and make sure  that the Auditor General functions as an effective, independent authority as the Constitution envisages,” he added.

Greenidge also said if the Auditor General looks at the operations of any of the agencies and concludes that they are not in keeping with the law, the PAC I think will want to ensure that that agency conforms as quickly as possible to those requirements. “This is really the thrust of all our initiatives. I think people see this exercise that we are going through in Parliament as an attempt to sanction or censure. It has nothing to do with that. It has to do with ensuring that the government operates within the constraints of the law; the central government and all the agencies associated with it,” he noted.

In the 2010 report, Sharma once again called for the establishment of the PPC, noting that the failure to appoint it to monitor public procurement and the procedures was a contravention of Article 212(W) of the Constitution.

“As a consequence of the commission not being established and in accordance with the Act, the National Board had the responsibility for the making of regulations governing the procurement of goods and services, determining the forms and documents for procurement and reporting to the Minister of Finance on the effectiveness of the procurement system, while organizing training seminars regarding procurement and adjudicating debarment proceedings,” the report stated.

The purpose of the PPC is to monitor and review all public procurement systems to ensure that they are in accordance with the law. Among its primary functions is monitoring the performance of procurement bodies for adherence to regulations and efficiency in procuring good and services and the execution of works.

It specifically has oversight over the procedures of ministerial, regional and national procurement entities as well as those of project execution units. Further, the commission is to investigate complaints from suppliers, contractors and public entities and cases of irregularities and mismanagement, with the power to propose remedial action in all instances.