PAC asks Auditor General to probe Region Six contract splitting

Regional Executive Officer (REO) Kim Williams-Stephen (left) and PAC member Volda Lawrence in dialogue at the meeting (DPI photo)

The Auditor General (AG) was on Monday asked to investigate instances of contract splitting which occurred under the Region 6 (East Berbice/Corentyne) administration in 2016, and to report to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) on the matter.

Section 14 of the Procurement Act states that “A procuring entity shall not split or cause to split contracts or divide or cause to divide its procurement into separate contracts where the sole purpose for doing so is to avoid the application of any provision of this Act or any regulations made thereunder.”

When the region appeared before the committee in April, the Regional Executive Officer (REO) Kim Williams-Stephen had been questioned on what was purported to have been the emergency purchase of gloves within a five-month period. Those transactions included seven purchases in April—all on the same day—two in May, three in July and two in August.

Williams-Stephen, who now also serves as the Chairperson of the Regional Tender Board, had reported that in 2016 when the transactions occurred, she had not been in the position of REO and so was unable to respond to the queries. However, she had also said that she would peruse the region’s records before making a pronouncement on whether or not a breach had occurred.

On Monday, when the region appeared before the committee again, the REO was asked for an update on the matter, particularly the April purchases, where seven transactions were made in one day.

Williams-Stephen noted that at her last appearance, she had accepted the contract splitting had occurred. She told the committee that according to the summary of the purchases, several sizes were requested, resulting in seven different invoices, although payment was made with one cheque after the transactions were merged.

However, PAC Chairman Irfaan Ali, referencing a document reportedly furnished to the Committee by the region, noted that according to the information received, all the gloves bought on that day were the same size and bought at the same price.

“We cannot tolerate this kind of behaviour at PAC,” Ali stated, while noting that the REO had submitted one answer to the committee and was now “trying to mislead” them.

But Williams-Stephen maintained that there were various sizes bought in the gloves.

PAC member Jermaine Figueira, questioned the REO on where this new information being presented had surfaced from. She related that payment vouchers and regional Tender Board minutes had been examined. It was not stated where the information that was initially presented to the PAC originated.

Finance Secretary Hector Butts was asked by Ali to pursue action against the region’s Regional Health Officer, who was reportedly there when the breach occurred, and to take any necessary action for the breach.

PAC member Juan Edghill opined that instead of “taking action in an instant” that there be a probe to discover what led to the contract splitting and whether the International Pharmaceutical Agency, is still a preferred supplier, as he declared that, “this is misconduct.”

Figueira agreed but added that the contractor should not be penalized. Edghill countered that contractors should be aware that they ought not to accept split contracts. Ali, weighing in, noted that it is the duty of the accounting officers to ensure that the laws are upheld.

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