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PSC offers compromise on Procurement Commission stalemate

Will the House approve the PSC’s compromise position?

A crack appears to have emerged in the government over agreeing on a compromise position that can finally pave the way for the establishment of a Public Procurement Commission (PPC) and passage tighter financial crimes legislation.

Well-placed sources say that President Donald Ramotar had repeatedly endorsed a formula in talks with the Private Sector Commission (PSC) that can see Cabinet having a no-objection only to the PPC to the award of multi-million dollar contracts for goods and services.

However, one of the President’s top advisors appears to be holding firm to government’s original position that Cabinet should be allowed to override PPC decisions.

“It seems as if the president is not in total control because he agreed with the Private Sector Commission’s proposed mechanism no less than four times when he was asked,” said a source that was privy to the talks. The PSC source noted that the advisor would, however, publicly reiterate that the PPC Act should be amended to veto the PPC’s decisions if necessary.

A PSC official rejected government’s view that the Cabinet needed oversight about the award of good and services, saying that subject ministers enjoy a say in project design and can hire and fire contractors. “Those who implement should not award and those who award should not implement,” said the source.

The source explained that already the National Tender Board is appointed by and is an arm of the Executive and the PPC would have both representatives of government and the opposition.

If government eventually accepts the PSC’s proposal, that can clear the way for the amendment to the PPC Act to be passed by the opposition-controlled 65-seat House.

The Alliance For Change (AFC) has maintained that it would support the passage of amendments to the Anti Money Laundering and Countering of Financing Terrorism (AML/CFT) Act if the PPC is set up.

In the clearest sign ever, AFC leader Khemraj Ramjattan said his seven-seat party has accepted the PSC’s compromise proposal. “We were supportive of the Private Sector Commission’s recommendation that the Public Procurement Commission’s decision shall be final and binding on all parties including the government,” he said.

Ramjattan’s said government’s desire to override the PPC would be unconstitutional.

Following is the PSC’s proposed compromise:

The Procurement Act should be amended to give the Cabinet the right to a no objection for contracts proposed by the National Tender Board even after the Procurement Commission has been set up.

An objection can only be made if Cabinet believes that the procedures laid out in the Procurement Act were not adhered to. This is in the existing Act already.

Cabinet’s objection should be made to the Procurement Commission as an oversight and appellate body, who will then review the reasons for the objection and make a ruling.

If the Procurement Commission disagrees with the grounds for objection and finds that the law was adhered to as per the Procurement Act, then permission will be granted to the National Tender Board to proceed with the awarding of the contract as recommended by them without referral back to the Cabinet.

If the procurement Commission agrees with the objection, then the matter is sent to the National Tender Board to remedy the short comings and sent back to the Cabinet for their no objection.

Once the Act is amended by parliament and assented by the President, the Procurement Commission should be installed with a level of urgency.

Adequate funding should be provided to ensure that the Procurement Commission can carry out its function effectively.