(The following is an opinion piece written by former Attorney General, Mohabir Anil Nandlall)
I do not recall another issue that was pursued with greater vigor by the APNU/AFC while in Opposition, more particularly the AFC, than the establishment of the Public Procurement Commission (PPC).
An opportunity was never lost, especially by Mr. Kemraj Ramjattan, to criticize the PPP for its non-establishment. This went on incessantly for years. The one-seat majority which APNU/AFC enjoyed in the 10th Parliament was used as a vicious weapon in a political war for the establishment of the PPC. This Commission was projected to the populace by the APNU/AFC as a fabled panacea to end not only alleged massive corrupt practices but as a solution to the nation’s economic woes and as a guarantee to its fiscal prosperity.
For two years in that Parliament, the AFC clutched desperately to it as a non-negotiable demand for its support for a number of much more important national endeavors, for example, the Amaila Falls Hydro-Project and the AML/CFT Bills. The APNU followed suit. In fact, Mr. Ramjattan was so belligerent in his quest for the establishment of this Commission that he disclosed, publicly, that the only reason for the AFC’s refusal to support of the AML/CFT Bill was because of the non-establishment of the PPC and that once this Commission is established, the AFC will support the AML/CFT Bills.
In short, the PPP/C Administration was pilloried and vilified almost daily for the non-establishment of this Commission. The minimal role which the Cabinet played in granting a “no objection” in the public procurement process was damnified in the worst possible way. Corruption, “control-freakism,” nepotism, racism, cronyism and much more were attributed to the PPP/C Administration by the APNU/AFC as the motives for not establishing the PPC and for Cabinet retaining a role in the procurement process. Expectedly, the establishment of the PPC was a promise which was accorded the highest priority in the APNU/AFC manifesto. Its establishment was promised to take place within the first one hundred days in office of a coalition government.
The establishment of the PPC is a process which begins in the Public Accounts Committee, where the proposed Commissioners are identified and their names transmitted to the National Assembly for its approval and it ends with the President’s appointment of the persons approved by the National Assembly. The Coalition Government enjoys a majority in the 11th Parliament. By extension, it enjoys a majority in the Public Accounts Committee, as it does in the entire Committee system of the Parliament. Therefore, the coalition controls the Parliament. It cannot extricate itself from blame for anything not done or not done in a timely manner in or by the Parliament.
After nearly 500 days and after more than a quarter of its term in Office, the Coalition Government is yet to establish the PPC. It cannot shift the blame to anyone or anywhere for this failure. It has simply failed to deliver on a most pivotal promise that it made to the electorate and has neglected to establish an institution which it sold to the populace, as a crucial cog in the wheel of good, transparent and accountable governance, as well, as being fundamental to the economic well-being of this nation. It is public knowledge that, though belatedly, the National Assembly has approved the names of the persons to sit on this Commission. It is also public knowledge that these names were handed by the Prime Minister to the President. The Prime Minster, as is his wont, used the occasion as photo-opportunity, causing the Opposition Leader to refer to him, pejoratively, as a “Post-Master Prime Minister (PMPM).” This occurred over two months ago. Yet the President has not appointed these persons and the Commission is not operational.
When asked a month ago by the press for a reason for the delay, Mr. Ramjattan garrulously blamed the PPP. He also used the opportunity to express his disappointment that his two nominees, Messers Anand Goolsaran and Christopher Ram, were rejected as possible commissioners thereof. He, absurdly, blamed the PPP/C for their rejection. The truth is that the PPP had its own nominees. Those two were not among them. Likewise, the APNU had its own nominees which also did not include these two gentlemen. So, it was not the PPP who rejected them but it is Mr. Ramjattan’s own colleagues in Government who did. Mr. Ramjattan’s political naivety will always hamper his ability to understand the magnitude of the ethnic factor in APNU’s philosophy, political outlook and policies. The reality is that the APNU will never choose two Indo-Guyanese in a three-person compliment for anything. I challenge anyone to prove me wrong.
The rejection of the AFC’s nominees as well as the delay in the appointment of the Commission, are ample and timely examples and in my view, irrefutable evidence of the AFC’s dwindling influence in the Coalition. How else can one explain the President having the time, and I daresay the energy, to appoint a Commission of Inquiry to investigate the welfare of retired officers of the Guyana Defence Force, Officers of Guyana National Service and the People’s Militia, to establish an elaborate constitutional tribunal to investigate the removal of Carvil Duncan from the Public Service Commission and to set up a Commission of Inquiry into the mysterious presence of an abandoned aircraft in Region 9, but yet refuses to appoint the relevant persons to the PPC. Moreso, since these tribunals were all established after the President received the names of the persons nominated to act as commissioners on the PPC.
To my mind, the refusal to appoint the PPC is deliberate. The reason is simple. Once the PPC is appointed, then Cabinet loses its “no-objection” role in the procurement process. The APNU is refusing to relinquish this element of control, despite the avalanche of criticism which it heaped upon the PPP/C for doing the same thing. To its credit, whether you agreed with them or not, the PPP/C advanced reasons for Cabinet’s retention of that role. These reasons were emphatically rejected and condemned by APNU/AFC. In fact, dishonest, corrupt, improper and authoritarian motives were attributed to the PPP/C by the APNU/AFC for maintaining Cabinet’s role in the procurement process. Are these the same reasons why the Coalition is refusing to establish the Commission? Your guess is as good as mine. In the end, the hypocrisy overwhelms. In the meanwhile, goods and services continue to be procured in disregard of the Procurement Act and contractors continue to be handpicked like never before. The voices of the “crusaders of corruption” that were so loud in criticism of the PPP/C Administration, have gone silent, though the corruption is increasing. For me, it demonstrates that they were never speaking in the national interest. It was always about their narrow self-interest. Under the Coalition Government, they have been given paid work. Their voices have since disappeared while the corruption continues to mount.