In October last year the state-run Department of Public Information (DPI) announced that the Small Business Procurement Programme enshrined in the Small Business Act of 2004 and under which 20% of state contracts pertaining to jobs of up to G$30 million would have come into effect in January of this year.
The whole idea behind the Small Business Procurement Act was to create conditional access to state contracts by small businesses that have not been able to fulfill the demanding conditions associated with open tendering. The news had been met with a considerable degree of enthusiasm by a number of the smaller businesses in the various sectors not least those of a service-oriented nature that could most readily deliver in some of the areas where state contracts commonly exist. Allied to the optimism evinced by the small business owners themselves were the prospects for making a dent in long-term unemployment since what the procurement arrangements facilitated, among other things, was the prospect of contracts jobs for modest family businesses and for wider job creation in several sectors of the economy.
Mind you, the Small Business Procurement Programme was never likely to move forward without a hitch. What would have been a critical barrier for businesses seeking to be compliant with the qualification criteria are those compliance provisions associated with the National Insurance Scheme (NIS) and the Guyana Revenue Authority. (GRA). It is widely known that, for one reason or another, satisfying these criteria has been a ‘challenge’ for sections of the business community, not least small businesses that execute mostly short-term contracts and are not usually the beneficiaries of sustained employment.
Setting the compliance considerations aside there exists another even more fundamental stumbling block, that is, the fact that there is no provision in the Procurement Act to set aside procurement opportunities, specifically works for small businesses. In effect, this deficiency undermines the implementation of the ‘set aside’ procurement arrangements enshrined in the Small Business Act and, in effect, puts a brake, at least in the short term on the prospects for small business growth and employment generation which were the intentions of the Act in the first place.
Needless to say, with the substantive arrangements now awaiting parliamentary approval the immediate-term expectations of sections of the small business community have been placed on hold – for how long, is anyone’s guess. Late last year, Chief Executive Officer of the Small Business Bureau (SBB) Dr. Lowell Porter had expressed to this newspaper his own optimism that there was still the possibility that the new procurement arrangements could come on stream in January. This is May of 2019 and setting aside the fact that we still have no indication as to when the relevant legal initiatives will be taken to allow the arrangements to come on stream, this newspaper understands that even if this were to happen tomorrow many of those small businesses that conceivably qualify to access contracts are still ‘off the pace’ as far as NIS and GRA compliance – provisions which the SBB Head absolutely insist are essential criteria for accessing contracts – are concerned.
All of this, mind you, is taking place at a time of high unemployment and significant expectations. Moreover, the business of regularizing the matter, given everything else that has popped up on the national agenda over the past five months or so, does not appear, for the time being at least, to be foremost on the national agenda. The fact of the matter is, however, that if the envisaged small business procurement arrangements can be gotten to work smoothly, that is to say free of the spectre of irregularities and corruption which are believed to bedevil the state procurement regime as a whole, then it could make a great deal of positive difference to employment generation which remains one of the challenges bedevilling the country.