The appointment at last, on Friday of the inaugural Procurement Board is a signal moment in this country’s history. It marks the first serious attempt since the passing of the 1961 act establishing the Central Tenders Board to eradicate sleaze in public affairs.
Under the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Property Act 2015, the new board has tremendous powers, powers which not even the Central Tenders Board has.
The new appointees can investigate, conduct audits and inspections and, crucially, give orders to any public body, from State-controlled enterprises right up to the Office of the President.
The importance of the new system cannot be over-emphasised. Given our country’s history of graft — from O’Halloran right up to LifeSport – there is a clear and present need to protect the public purse.
The slowdown in the economy also means systems championing the values of integrity, value for money and inclusion of local content are more crucial than ever.
While we welcome the appointment, we cannot help but express dismay over the inordinate length of time that has elapsed since the passing of the 2015 legislation, which was itself the end product of a legislative process that took five years. The State needs to do a better job when it comes to passing legislation, setting up public agencies and devising regulations.
The new Procurement Board will only be a success if it is able to conduct its affairs with complete independence. This means having adequate funds to fulfil its sweeping mandate as well as fulfilling its statutory duty to be “objective and non-discriminatory.”
Still, the new body is in a rare position. Unlike entities such as the Integrity Commission, it is starting with a clean slate without any history behind it. It is in a position to learn from the mistakes of the past as it steers its way into what will hopefully be a bright future.
It is hoped the new appointees were subject to adequate checks by President’s House given the gravity of the body they sit on.
The new board must instill confidence and be transparent. Given the framework set out in the law, the public is also entitled to know which specific role or function each member is to perform or which interest they represent. And the running of the board must be such as to comply with standards of transparency and accountability.
At a time when public procurement issues such as those relating to the Tobago ferry service continue to dog us, the board must hit the ground running.