The UNC has launched a petition calling on government to repeal the Procurement Amendment Act of 2020, as well as the 2017 and 2016 versions, and restore the Public Procurement and Disposal of Property Act I of 2015 in its original form.
The launch took place at the party’s roundtable webinar presentation, titled Why Repeal the Procurement Amendment? on Monday.
The webinar featured Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar, Senator Wade Mark, former Senate President Timothy Hamel-Smith, environmentalist Gary Aboud, and former PNM ministers Karen Nunez-Tesheira and Ralph Maraj. It was moderated by UNC PRO Kirk Meighoo.
The participants laid out their reasons why the government should repeal the legislation.
Mark said, in giving background information, the PNM delayed efforts to put the legislation in place when in opposition and then gave it pride of place in its 2015 manifesto. He said it introduced three sets of amendments which gutted the legislation and had now “weaponised the legislation to facilitate open theft of public money through several mechanisms.
“The Cabinet has now assumed the responsibility, without any independent oversight, for the four stages of the procurement process, namely planning, bidding, evaluation and implementation of all treaties and agreements with other states and entities; all agreements with international financing institutions; all agreements for technical co-operation; all financial, legal, audit, and accounting, medical and other services, determined by the Cabinet; all public-private partnership agreements – in a word, the Rowley-led kleptocratic administration has legalised thievery and banditry and naked corruption in this nation.
“The Rowley regime spent some $35 billion every year on the acquisition of goods, services and other works. Over the past five years, this Rowley-led government has spent over $170 billion without effective accountability, transparency, integrity and value for money.”
Hamel-Smith said a major question the nation needed to ask was whether it wanted to be successful or underdeveloped.
“When you look at the Corruption Index, the more successful countries are the ones with less corruption.
"One of the main recommendations to minimise corruption is to introduce proper procurement legislation. This government has sought to eliminate government-to-government procurement by eliminating the oversight of the regulator, and that means you have disempowered the regulator from an essential part of what procurement (law) is intended to do.”
He said government raised the idea of an amendment to correct an ambiguity in the legislation as it related to government-to-government contracts. In its present form, he said, government does not have to be accountable.
“Such contracts don’t have to abide by the socio-economic contracts in TT. It says government is telling the public, 'We in charge, not a damn dog bark, and we will do as we please because we are the government of the country.'”
He said poor people will suffer most when the country loses its wealth because of corruption.
Nunez-Tesheira said the Prime Minister should know that the Opposition was not asking for services to be selected on the basis of the lowest price, as he had claimed. She said a 2004 PNM policy said accountability, transparency and value for money were key aspects of procurement legislation.
“If he is aware of the abuse which can take place, and as he is the person to look after the interests of the country, why remove the protection of this legislation? I’d ask him to reconsider his position about putting checks and balances in place.”
Maraj said many individuals had come out against the procurement legislation as flawed, including Afra Raymond, Terrence Farrell and Selwyn Cudjoe, to name a few.
“By cheating the nation of resources needed for its development, it steals food from the mouth of the poor. I’m not sure people see the link between corruption and poverty.
"I think this act constitutes the corruption of democracy in TT and removes people from management of their own property.”
Aboud said government was a business engaged in buying and selling, and while people were concerned with how the legislation dealt with the buying side, he was also concerned about what the government was selling.
“We don’t know what they’re selling and for how much. The legislation allows them to sell property and goods and services, and we wouldn’t know how much they sold it for.
"Why aren’t we fighting for what is ours? This is a golden opportunity to address critical legislation. If we allow this big law to pass us, God help us for the next 60 years. There needs to be a public movement for public interest culture.”
Persad-Bissessar said Dr Rowley never wanted procurement legislation as the PNM had blocked the law in 2015. She said she was not surprised that after six years there were still no regulations for the act.