Opposition ‘peddling ignorance’ over Procurement Bill : — AG
ATTORNEY General Anil Nandlall yesterday charged the Opposition with peddling “ignorance” in relation to passage of the Procurement (Amendment) Bill.Parliament last Thursday deferred the second reading of the Bill to a date within the next six months, following a motion moved by Government Chief Whip Gail Teixeira after six hours of debate.
The Bill is an act to amend the 2003 principal Procurement Act by making changes to Section 54 by means of deleting subsection six. Section 54 deals with Cabinet’s involvement in reviewing the awarding of procurement contracts and the phasing out of its functions with the establishment of a Public Procurement Commission (PPC), in the interest of decentralising the procurement process. Subsection six states that: “Cabinet’s involvement shall cease upon the establishment of the Public Procurement Commission, except in relation to those matters referred to in subsection one which are pending.”
At a press conference held at Freedom House, the AG said: “We are dealing with an overwhelming level of ignorance, and the PPP will now have to educate the country because of the overwhelming ignorance peddled by the politicians.”
According to him, the provisions of the Constitution are clear in relation to the issue.
Nandlall said: “There is nothing in this Constitution, in relation to the Public Procurement Commission which excludes a role for Cabinet.
“Nothing in the Constitution authorizes, either expressly or by implication, the Procurement Commission to award contracts. The Procurement Commission cannot usurp the statutory functions of the National Tender Administration Board.”
He explained that the Procurement (Amendment) Bill is based on positions “deeply rooted” in administrative principles and in the Constitution itself.
Nandlall said: “Administratively, one cannot be held responsible and accountable for a process or the outcome of a process when one has been excluded from that process. Simply put, there cannot be a responsibility without a role.
“Under the constitutional doctrine of separation of powers, the executive is assigned the responsibility for the management of the financial affairs of the state, including the expenditure of public funds.”
The Attorney General added that over 75 per cent of public expenditure by the Executive is done via the public procurement process. “This responsibility is owed both to the electorate as well as to the National Assembly. The nucleus of the Executive is the Cabinet. This responsibility is captured by Article 106 (2) of the Constitution, which states: “The Cabinet shall aid and advise the President in the general direction and control of the Government of Guyana, and shall be collectively responsible therefor to Parliament.”
Nandlall said managing and controlling the Government of Guyana requires the expenditure of public funds.
“Articles 217, 218, 219 and 220 of the Constitution create a comprehensive network by which the Minister of Finance is to access these public funds and account to the Parliament for their expenditures.
“How can Cabinet be accountable for the expenditure of these public funds when it is denied any role in how they are expended? The retention, therefore, of Cabinet’s role in the procurement process is indispensable.”
Referring to analogies made in the debate to the procurement procedures in other countries, he said comparatively, Cabinet in Guyana plays an “exceedingly minimal” role. All these arguments fell on deaf ears as the opposition refused to support the Bill, Nandlall said.
He maintained that there is a “colossal misunderstanding” of the role of the Commission.
“What is even more disturbing is their shocking lack of understanding of the procurement legislation, systems and process, and the role which the Procurement Commission is expected to play in this process…The role is one to monitor and have oversight, not to participate in the procurement process.”
Nandlall pointed out that Cabinet’s no-objection in the procurement process does not, in any way, affect the role or the functioning of the Public Procurement Commission.
“The Constitution establishes this Commission as an oversight and monitoring body scrutinizing and monitoring the entire procurement process, including the limited role of Cabinet. The AFC completely misunderstands this role, and its leader inexplicably views this Commission as a participant in the procurement process with powers to award contracts,” Nandlall declared.
He pointed out that in the face of such overwhelming and unyielding ignorance, compromise will indeed be impossible.
The AG called for reason within Opposition ranks, during the deferral period before the second reading of the Bill.
“The party hopes that with the passage of time, the Opposition will be visited with reason and support this Bill so that the Government can move quickly to establish the Public Procurement Commission,” he said.
On that note, Nandlall made it clear that the “constitutional prescription” is clear on how the body shall have its members appointed. Appointees, according to the Constitution, are to be independent, impartial and fair.
“We must be guided by the Constitution, its letter and its spirit,” he stressed.
General Secretary of the People’s Progressive Party (PPP), Clement Rohee, in adding his comments to the issue, pointed out that consensus going forward is a must.
On the note of appointing members to the Commission, he underscored the fact that the Constitution makes clear that there must be a two-thirds majority in the House.
“All three parties are interested in the establishment of the PPC, and they are all speaking together on this matter…. If they (Members of Parliament) do not strike a compromise at some point time, the nation will not have the Commission established,” Rohee said.
This, according to him, is not the outcome the ruling party wants to be realised, as it recognises the national interest in having safeguards as it relates to the procurement process.
The General Secretary noted that while the joint Opposition is focused on accountability and transparency, the responsibility factor must not be ignored.
“I do not see a conflict between the three, they are all interconnected,” he said and called for support of the Procurement (Amendment) Bill.
PULL QUOTE: ‘We are dealing with an overwhelming level of ignorance, and the PPP will now have to educate the country because of the overwhelming ignorance peddled by the (Opposition) politicians.’
Written By Vanessa Narine