Speaking at a symposium for new and existing contractors, Minister of Public Infrastructure (MPI) David Patterson yesterday stressed the need for transparency in the huge public procurement sector and added that distrust in the system has to be dispelled.
Before a packed audience at the Arthur Chung Convention Centre, Patterson also rebuffed the notion among some that a change in government meant that they would automatically get contracts.
He told the opening ceremony that while he has been lobbying for the past 14 months for an increase in capacity, particularly in the construction sector, there is a big difference between talking and implementation. He said that since taking up office, the Ministry has been inundated by questions from persons seeking contracts for public works.
“When we question and interrogated these persons, we asked them the very first question: ‘Have you submitted a tender?’ To our disappointment most would have said no. Most would’ve been under the impression that jobs could’ve been given up solely on the ministerial or political discretion,” Patterson said, while pointing out that this misunderstanding was one of the main reasons that the seminar was convened.
He said that in addition to the misunderstanding about procurement, the problem was also compounded by a “distrust with the procurement system” and that whatever had transpired under the previous government that would’ve caused this had to be changed. He stated that persons were under the impression that the procurement process was geared in a way that certain contractors would be favoured.
He dismissed this view.
“The Ministry started interrogating the tenders we would’ve received from persons that would’ve recently joined the procurement process and there were several glaring omissions that persons would’ve made,” he said, adding that this was another reason why the symposium was important.
“Not because you voted for change means that automatically you have voted yourself a contract. There has been comments all around that they voted for change and nothing has changed—and yes we greatly appreciate and are humbled by it—however, the reasons you supported us for change is because you stand for law and order,” Patterson said, pointing out that contractors should remember that there are procurement laws and it is in the best interest of both the ministry and contractors around for the process to be transparent. He added that contractors should not seek projects beyond their capacity.
While it was the first such symposium, Patterson said that it should be a continuous process where feedback is constantly provided by the contractors. He emphasised that the seminar is aimed at educating the new contractors and while there are “old heads” in the crowd, they should refrain from discussing their personal problems at the event.
Minister within the Ministry Annette Ferguson also echoed the importance of having procurements be as transparent as possible. She said that procurement is important for the MPI since it has the responsibility and oversight for some of the largest civil works and construction projects in the country. “This procurement symposium is timely and part of the Ministry of Public Infra-structure’s push to increase transparency, fairness and eliminate corruption through education and …regulations so that suppliers of works and services can participate in the procurement process more intelligently,” she said, while pointing out that the Ministry is anticipating that the initiative will attract more suppliers of works and services to enhance the competitive bidding process.
“We hope that new suppliers with the prerequisite experience and qualifications will be able to prequalify to deliver quality works and services,” she said.
Minister within the Ministry of Finance Jaipaul Sharma expressed his joy at the initiative and surprise at seeing the centre almost filled with contractors. He said that the government doesn’t want a repeat of what contractors were famous for under the previous administration and this is one of the main reasons for the initiative.
Sharma said that while the country has been elevated to a high middle income status, it affects the country in accessing finances. He said the country will not be able to tap as much concessional finance as it was able to in the past and will depend more on taxpayers’ money to finance projects.
He added that the seminar was also important for the new entrants since the Small Business Act says that 20% of government contracts must go to small businesses and they should be aware of such.
Brentnol Collins, a contractor for 25 years who has never been involved in a government project before lauded the symposium and said it would be in the best interest of the entire country if there were more.
“To be honest after I saw it on the media that they will have this symposium for younger, fresh or new contractors, everybody like to elevate themselves, so I thought it might be in my best interest to come and see what it is all about and so far I am very much impressed with what was said. Basically most of the things I knew about it before but impressed in the sense of knowing they have extended or this symposium was directly posed for fresh contractors,” he told Stabroek News, before adding that he has changed his mind about bidding for government contracts and will be doing so in the future.
He said if there is another symposium of the sort, he would encourage other contractors to join and learn more. Other new contractors expressed the same sentiments and gratitude towards the Ministry for organising the event.