In an effort to tackle the sloth in implementation under the Public Sector Investment Programme (PSIP), President David Granger now meets monthly with top officials of every ministry on the progress or lack thereof in critical projects, Finance Minister Winston Jordan disclosed yesterday.
Jordan hinted too that ongoing procurement problems and unreliable contractors may also be to blame for the lack of progress, which he maintained has not been “swept under the carpet.”
He said that he has been very upfront about low spending under the PSIP in mid-year reports and budget presentations.
“We said that there was a problem,” he said, before adding that to address the situation there were engagements with the project managers and the permanent secretaries of all ministries at monthly meetings.
“When those weren’t bearing fruit, we kicked it up above so we got the president involved,” he said.
Jordan added that the president now meets monthly with ministers, their permanent secretaries and project managers on critical projects. He added that “general” problems are dealt with at the ministry level.
Jordan stressed that the mere fact that the matter has now reached the president is an indication that it is being taken seriously and that things “will get done.” He said that at the meetings with the president, a clear sense of what may be holding back a project can be gained and on-the-spot decisions can be taken to address the issue.
In July, while addressing a Budget 2018 Preparation and Sensitisation Training Workshop, Jordan had lamented the low spending and challenged the participants at the workshop to deliver results.
In his remarks to the heads of budget agencies and other senior government officials, Jordan highlighted the fact that the 2017 Budget had been delivered since November 26, 2016 and yet, there were budget agencies in June still figuring out specifications of items to be purchased.
As at end June, PSIP spending was at less than 30 percent. “What is the reason for this continued sloth in the implementation of the PSIP, at a time when it was touted as a boost to spending in the economy?” Jordan asked.
“We have awarded only 53 percent of the PSIP and expended a mere 28 percent on maintenance of infrastructure within the recurrent budget. While we happily and deservedly bask in the glow of improved Grade Six examination results, we need to wake up to the reality that less than 50 percent of our Grade Six children passed mathematics this year. Drugs and medical supplies are still in short supply at GPHC and in all of our regions,” the minister lamented.
Jordan suggested as a collective that they use the opportunity of reflection to renew their energies towards improved performances and better results across all sectors.
Yesterday, the minister agreed that the government will be flogged over the PSIP. “Government spending is a trigger to revitalising the economy and we have taken a knock on that,” he stressed.
Jordan mentioned that a team from the firm Delivery Associates (DA) visited to do a diagnostic of the problems affecting the PSIP. He said the ensuing discussions on the establishment of a delivery unit have only taken place at the level of a Cabinet sub-committee and as a result there is no Cabinet decision that says that “a delivery unit will be established.”
He said that the DA gave a pictorial demonstration of the processes involved as well as some of the countries which have such units in place. He stressed that it is now up to cabinet to make a final decision on the establishment of the unit. “At our level, it is to strengthen the PSIP process…and the institutions involved in implementing the PSIP,” he said.
Jordan could not immediately identify the major projects impacted by the underspending but stressed that most of the ‘big’ ministries have issues. He noted that Ministry of Public Infrastructure probably has the biggest chunk of the PSIP owing to projects which cover roads, airstrips and boats.
Meanwhile, Jordan said that government has been faced with sloppy work by contractors and its inability to attract international contractors. The latter issue was raised with Julie Katzman, Senior Vice President of the Inter-American Develop-ment Bank when she visited here last week. In response, she said that Guyana is still looked upon as a corrupt country and that contractors are probably afraid of getting their reputations tainted.
“She is on to a point… I don’t know that we have been able to attract serious contractors even from the region. I don’t know if it is corruption that is keeping them back…that perception of corruption and I don’t believe that that corruption was built over the last two years. That is a perception that we inherited in 2015,” he said, while noting that government is working to correct the perception by focusing on transparency and accountability.
He added that it must not only be recognised that government is committed to transparency and accountability but that there is delayed action in many cases. The transparency process is a long one which begins with publicising bids followed by evaluating bids and then selecting a winner who will have to lodge their bond, he told reporters.
Noting that the process cannot be sped up, the minister said that all ministries had procurement issues when government took office and there was no contract administrator to administer contracts. Using the Ministry of Public Health and the Ministry of Education to drive home his point, he said that both are lacking the engineers needed given the number of buildings that they have control of.
On the issue of sloppy works, Jordan said that careful attention has to be paid to the supervision of works. “Sloppy works come from sloppy supervision. That’s where the major problem lies. You see roads that are done and when they start breaking up, it had to be in the consultant or the supervision. Bad roads and bad works will be done because of poor supervision and that is where I think we need to first of all train our sights on the packages that we have been developing,” he added.