Corruption, favouritism and racism persist in the public procurement process

Dear Editor,

Despite the establishment of the Public Procurement Commission (PPC) in 2016, Guyana’s procurement process is still infested with prejudice, inequality, unfairness, discrimination, nepotism and racism and, even worse, there is no proper mechanism to deal with appeals and complaints.

Government and Opposition politicians are fully aware of this situation, but for some reason they seem to lack the vision, drive, energy or political will to do whatever is necessary to fix the seriously flawed process and make it fair, transparent and accountable as the nation’s Constitution requires. Partial solutions have not worked and cannot work.

I recall that it was public pressure arising from deep suspicion about corrupt practices infecting the National Procurement and Tender Administration Board (NPTAB) that caused President David Granger to establish the PPC about two years ago.

At the PPC swearing in ceremony, President Granger stressed that the commission’s role is to ensure that the procurement process is fair, equitable, transparent, competitive and cost effective, according to law, and according to such policy guidelines as may be determined by the National Assembly.

But despite this noble intention, it quickly became clear that the PPC was not fulfilling its role and did not have the capacity to do so. This was because of its feeble response to Opposition calls for probes into the contract with a Dutch company for a feasibility study on the proposed new Demerara River bridge, as well as the D’Urban Park Project and the Sussex Street bond.

PPC Chairperson Carol Corbin reportedly promised the Opposition to look into those matters, but added that this would be done “within the confines of (the Commission’s) work programme and available resources”. Quite rightly, this position was rejected because the PPC’s work programme and lack of resources cannot stand in the way of its obligation to investigate such complaints promptly and effectively.

I recall that, in July 2017, Opposition MP and former Attorney General (AG) Anil Nandlall called for the setting up of an Appellate Tribunal as prescribed by the supreme law of the land, the Constitution.

He pointed out that the Constitution stipulates that Parliament may, by law, provide for the establishment of a PPC Tribunal to hear appeals against PPC decisions, and beyond that, appeals against the Tribunal’s decisions can be heard by the Guyana Court of Appeal.

I also recall when the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) said it would be assisting Guyana to set up a special mechanism to fast-track projects and Opposition Leader, Bharrat Jagdeo stated that the IDB needed to know that the lack of delivery on the contracts is not because procurement officials are not aware of the procedures; it is because of corruption.

When I heard these pronouncements, I was taken aback because this same situation existed during all the 23 years when the Opposition was in Government and they were in positions of power to make a difference. I asked myself: Where were Jagdeo and Nandlall then? Are they are only seeing this now they are out of power?

I always support sense over nonsense. Therefore, I support Nandlall’s position on the setting up of a PPC Appellate Tribunal and I also support Jagdeo’s move to alert the IDB about corruption in the public procurement process. I hope the former President did indeed write to IDB about it as he said.

Like many other genuine investors in Guyana with extensive knowledge of the way contracts should be awarded, I am extremely frustrated by the persistence of corruption, favouritism and racism in the public procurement process. It is absolutely atrocious that there is no suitable, independent body in place to hear appeals against bad decisions or to report wrongdoings.

The public procurement process is riddled with irregularities, peculiarities and secrecy. It is also extremely doubtful that it is being handled by persons who have the integrity, independence and expertise to make fair decisions when awarding contracts. It is also quite evident that many contracted works are not being evaluated by honest, principled and technically competent persons.

Therefore. I am calling on the members of the Government and Opposition to pull out all the stops and take effective action now to get rid of the corruption in the public procurement process, and also set up an Appellate Tribunal to deal with complaints and appeals.

Think of all the millions of dollars in scarce development funds that are leaking through the holes in this corrupt and backward system. The time for talking is long gone; this is the time for action. The nation must not have to endure this nonsense while politicians drag their feet.

Sadly the PPC seem to have forgotten my case against the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Education.  Do I now turn to the Court of Law?

How quickly certain government officials cause leaders of good intent to lose their credibility.  For example, with the fiasco over payment of less than approved wages to security guards in Region 6 and no remittance of NIS to the scheme, my company’s tender was below the one awarded to a new kid of the block by almost $2 million.  Yippee! And he also became a favourite of former Ministers and Presidential aides. I have to admire these guys who can fool Ministers and Governments in power with promises of support at election time.

This is an advisory to the Government: Whenever you try to select and support a particular group, those people feel chosen, protected, and hence, shame the Government and abuse the system because they feel protected.  With the last Government we saw this with UAS&DS and another party boy favourite, who stole literally billions of dollars from NIS, paid below approved wages and specialized in theft of taxes.

UAS&DS operates under a different name today and has now, as it did then, a senior former Government functionary as a Director. What must Guyanese expect? I thought this new administration would have changed the entire system of deceit, manipulation and corruption, but it seems that we are cursed!

At times I must concur with Freddie Kissoon and ask: Is my country cursed?  But God knows I love it and all our peoples.

Yours faithfully,

Hajji Roshan Khan Snr.

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