AG: More work needed before Procurement Act proclamation

Attorney General Reginald Armour, SC, at his first media conference, Office of the Attorney General, Port of Spain on Wednesday. Photo by Jeff K Mayers
Attorney General Reginald Armour, SC, at his first media conference, Office of the Attorney General, Port of Spain on Wednesday. Photo by Jeff K Mayers

ATTORNEY General Reginald Armour, SC, told the House of Representatives on Wednesday that procurement legislation cannot yet be proclaimed, based on concerns expressed by both the Judiciary and Office of Procurement Regulator (OPR). But, he said the Government was committed to this legal reform.

All Opposition MPs left the chamber while he read his statement, in an ongoing protest at him staying in office after a US court hearing this country's civil lawsuit over the Piarco Airport project had rejected his claim to have acted in a junior role for two clients in the criminal trial about 14 years ago.

House Leader Camille Robinson-Regis moved that Armour be given extra time to complete his statement and, in the absence of Opposition MPs, Speaker Bridgid Annisette-George agreed.

Armour said the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Property Act 2015 was amended in 2016, 2017 and 2020 and assented to in 2020 and was now awaiting proclamation.

Saying the Prime Minister has been the driving force for the bill, he said, "The Government has placed its highest priority and is fully committed to take the final steps to fully proclaim and to bring into operation this important law."

He said soon after taking office he had consulted the OPR and Judiciary.

The OPR, he related, said some public bodies have begun to get ready for compliance with the act, but "significant work" still remained to establish the required system and processes. Armour spoke of "traffic-stopping" remarks from the Judiciary which, he said, has identified "critical issues relative to the operationalisation of the legislation in its current form.”

The Judiciary was concerned about a lack of separation of powers, the OPR's wide authority, insufficient assurance of due process, concerns of abuse in challenges to a public body’s procurement activity, the chance of the act being used to hinder the functioning of law courts, the understaffing of the Judiciary's procurement unit, fears of a leap in public-law litigation, fears of an unmanageable workload for the Judiciary, and an extensive impact on the Judiciary's operations.

"It is the view of the Judiciary that the effect of this legislation on the processes and operations of the Judiciary (and other public bodies) has not yet been truly understood, and that the level of bureaucracy, record-keeping, paper work, as well as the staff needed to ensure its proper application, are not yet properly assessed.

"The policy requiring existing staff to undertake this work is unrealistic. There must be recognition of the need for in-house attorneys to handle the drafting of contracts and review the preparation of tender documents for every procurement.

“The responsibility placed on the procurement officer and the accounting officer is immense and to require them to address it without sound legal support, at at risk of grave penalty, is unwise."

Armour vowed to consult stakeholders and said the Government was "committed to the full proclamation of the act", a goal it would work towards in the shortest time possible.

He later held a news briefing at his ministry to repeat his points.

"The emphasis is that the country is not ready for the proclamation of this act," Armour said. Asked when this work would be done, he replied, "In the shortest possible time."

Asked about a state of unreadiness to proclaim the law, he replied, "I'm not going to speak for any of those departments. I have begun a process of consultation. I have consulted with two organisations – the Procurement Regulator and the Judiciary."

He said he has committed to speak to other entities.

Told this legislation was a 2015 PNM campaign promise yet was still not ready in 2022, he said, "I'd put it this way. To the extent to which they were campaign promises, I accept that. As you'd appreciate I've only just come to the office and I am beginning to familiarise myself with the processes that are involved in being in the political world." Armour said the Cabinet was driven by the Prime Minister who had recently sent him messages from abroad to ask what was happening with the procurement legislation.

"He has been driving it before I arrived, and therefore there has been no lethargy or disinterest in moving the proclamation forward. The question is, can we do it without bringing our bodies and public agencies to a grinding halt?"

Asked if it was putting the cart before the horse to pass a law and then seek consultations, Armour said no. He said the consultations would be to "ascertain how ready are we to implement the law."

He said that with the "shape of the law before us" there was a need to "reach out to public bodies and audit their state of preparation."


"AG: More work needed before Procurement Act proclamation"

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