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Bill to preserve Cabinet role in contracts deferred

Gov’t Chief Whip Gail Teixeira and AFC Leader Khemraj Ramjattan in discussion before the vote on the motion to defer the bill.

The National Assembly has approved a six-month deferral of a government bill which seeks to preserve the Cabinet role in the contract procurement process.

The move came after some six hours of debate in the House with the opposition parties giving every indication that they were prepared to vote down the Procurement (Amendment) Bill.

The administration was seeking an amendment to a clause which called for the phasing out of Cabinet’s role in the procurement process.

Giving a background on the issue Finance Minister Dr. Ashni Singh noted that the extant bill had two contradictory sub-clauses when it was approved in 2003. One stated that there would be an annual review of the Cabinet’s role while another called for the abolishment of the role upon the establishment of the Public Procurement Commission. The amendment was meant to remove the latter provision.

The minister argued that the government, which had fiduciary oversight of the economy, could not be excluded from the process if it was to be held accountable for the people’s monies.

The opposition parties had hinged its arguments on the abolishing of the Cabinet role with the establishment of the Commission. The AFC had linked its support for another contentious piece of legislation, the anti-money laundering bill, to the set-up of the Commission.

The APNU’s Carl Greenidge said the issue of procurement pervaded all of Guyana’s problems on the economic front. He added that it was because of the suspect procurement process that Guyana was ranked the second most corrupt country in the Caribbean by Transparency International.

Greenidge also argued that there was no contradiction in the clauses identified by the minister. The AFC’s Khemraj Ramjattan, meanwhile, said the government’s interpretation of the constitution and the law was flawed.

However, government MP Gail Teixeira later rose and moved that the bill be deferred for six months during which time it was hoped that the impasse could be resolved.

Attorney General Anil Nandlall had earlier stated that there would be no Public Procurement Commission if Cabinet was excluded from the process.