The guardians of democracy can be the guardians against corruption
It is with great worry that, once again, the situation regarding Guy-ana’s public procurement practices must once again be addressed and criticized. The entity in question is the National Procurement and Tender Administration Board (NPTAB), whose members are in charge of all public procurement in the country. Since this administration has taken office, many questioned the contract awards that have taken place in the public sector – there have been many instances regarding lucrative contracts being awarded to a select few contractors, many of whom were not (and could not) have been the lowest, most responsive bidder in accordance with the Procurement Act, our country’s law governing the public tendering system.
First, 1 would like to offer an overview of the most important sections of the Procurement Act. Section 39(2) of the Procurement Act states that “The Evaluation Committee shall, using ONLY the evaluation criteria outlined in the tender documents, evaluate all tenders, determine which tenderer has submitted the lowest evaluated tender, and convey its recommendation to the procuring entity…” Section 39(3) states that “If the procuring entity does not agree with the Evaluation Committee’s determination, the procuring entity shall issue an advisory recommendation to the Evaluation Committee regarding which bidder should be the lowest evaluated bidder, which recommendation the Evaluation Committee shall observe.” Section 39(5)(a) states that “A tender shall be rejected if the supplier or contractor that submitted the tender is not qualified…” Section 35(6)(a) “All evaluation criteria for the procurement of goods, works and services in addition to price, will be qualified in monetary terms and the tender will be awarded to the lowest evaluated bidder.” Sections 35(8) and 35(9) stipulate that the lowest evaluated bidder may be required at the discretion of the procuring entity to demonstrate its qualifications to execute the contract and, if they fail to do so, the tender shall be rejected.
The Procurement Act also stipulates in Section 12 that there should be no inducement from suppliers and contractors in the public procurement process to engineer a certain outcome. Why, then, if we have this supposedly fair method of public procurement, are contracts being awarded in the way that they are? In some instances, experienced and reputable contractors are not even being invited to tender for some works. There are also many so-called “overnight contractors” that have sprung up since the PPP took power. The list is long for the number of friends, family, and associates of the PPP that have been empowered by the administration to become contractors in the public sector because that is the sector where the PPP has the most control and the most spending power.
In the government’s defense, however, there is a process in the Procurement Act for review of rejected tenders. Section 52(1) states that “A bidder whose tender or proposal has been rejected may submit a written protest to the procuring entity.” Further, Section 53 allows for an independent Bid Protest Committee, whose decision is binding on the procuring entity. While these sections were established to lend fairness to the public procurement system, it is also marred by politics. In reality, those that are appointed to conduct the review of an appealed bid are also appointed by members of the administration in power. It is also extremely important to note that the PPP administration has deliberately disbanded these appeal committees and procedures and, therefore, a contractor has no redress when it comes to unfair treatment at the hands of NPTAB. Even if such appeal processes were still in effect, a contractor who appeals his / her bid would only be asking for trouble in using this process. Appealing a rejected bid can be likened to painting a target on one’s back and showing that target to the Government’s firing squad. Better to accept the fact that your bid was rejected and hope that the Government takes pity on you the next time.
The reality is such: all the Government’s money comes from taxpayers and each taxpayer should be afforded a fair and equitable opportunity to benefit from the spending of such money. At what point in time does the ruling party stop using taxpayer dollars to repay their supporters? At what point will the public tendering process become a level playing field? As we all know, the Government is usually the largest spender in any country and there are many that depend on the public procurement process for their income. But the PPP seems more intent on taking care of its supporters than all of Guyana’s citizens. We understand that rewarding the supporters of any political party is important – but that does not mean that others should suffer because of it.
In saying all of this, we praise the likes of Glenn Lall and Christopher Ram, among others, who stand up for fairness in the public procurement process and advocate for a corruption-free Guyana. We guarantee that if the likes of these figures started their own political party, those that stand against corruption would throw their full support behind them. In the same breath, we call on those that stand for fairness, equality, and democracy to step up and hold the Government of Guyana accountable for its actions. The US has the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Canada has anti-corruption provisions embedded into the Criminal Code as well as the Corruption of Foreign Public Officials Act. The UK has the Bribery Act (2010). These countries have long taken a stand against corruption, and we are calling on them to do so in Guyana.
We challenge the US Embassy, the Canada High Commission, the UK High Commission, the Private Sector Commission, the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce, and the Guyana Manufacturing and Services Association (GMSA) to take a stand and uphold this country’s democratic values. When the last general elections were being held, these organizations were the “guardians of democracy” and rightfully stood against the APNU / AFC attempt to rig the election. But where are they now? Why isn’t pressure being applied to the public procurement process in the same rigorous manner that it was when the general elections were being held? Democracy does not stop when a government is elected. It is even more important to hold a government to its democratic principles when they are in power than when they are trying to attain that power.
To the above-named parties, you have the authority and influence to investigate the actions of the PPP administration and, specifically, NPTAB. The evidence sits in the files of NPTAB. Gather the tender documents and question whether the contract was awarded to the lowest, most responsive bidder. This is the law. The PPP administration has had more than a year to repay their supporters. There are others who depend on the income of public procurement – not just company owners, but the large amounts of people they employ as well. The world is watching. We need to do better.
A Concerned Taxpayer