Govt. buckles under pressure: Defers Procurement Amendment Bill after extensive debate

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By Kurt Campbell

Parliament[www.inewsguyana.com] – It was made pellucid during Thursday’s (December 19) sitting of the National Assembly that the Government was not prepared to give up its ‘no-objection’ role in the awarding of public contracts. The declaration was made by Housing and Water Minister Irfaan Ali who shouted “we are ready for the Public Procurement Commission but we are not going to give up our role in the procurement process!”

But despite the display of much antics and prolonged arguments from the government and opposition benches, the Government through its Chief Whip Gail Teixeira deferred the Bill for six months which appeared to be headed for a defeat.

The administration had moved to the National Assembly to remove a subsection (54:1) from the Public Procurement Act which states that with the establishment of Public Procurement Commission (PPC) Cabinet’s role in the process shall cease.

The Government accused the Opposition of defiling logic and reason and claimed that its members were only concerned with using its one majority to trump its cause of removing cabinet from the process.

Ali had warned the opposition that “blow hot, blow cold we will not give up our role.” The phrase has no doubt left several opposition members baffled. Several speakers from the government benches also hinted that if Cabinet’s role is removed, there may not be a Public Procurement Commission anytime soon.

“If this bill is rejected, then I’m sorry to say the PPC will not come into play,” Attorney General Anil Nandlall had specifically threatened.

The Opposition nonetheless supported the deferral stating that it was in fact reasonable. APNU Member of Parliament said however that he hopes the deferral does not delay deliberations for nomination of persons for the PPC.

Finance Minister Dr. Ashni Singh while debating his administration’s position argued that there were clear collisions between two subsections in the Public Procurement Act.

He said while one section (54:1) says Cabinet have the right to review all public contracts above $15M and grant it’s no objection, another subsection (54:6 which was an amendment to the act) states that cabinet’s roles will cease in the procurement process once the Public Procurement Commission is established. He argued that the latter files in the face of constitutional provisions given in 54:1.

“Are we to be guided by 54:1 or 54:6, which is superior?” the Minister prior to the voting had asked, and called for the contradiction which he identified to be resolved.

But according to A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) Member of Parliament Carl Greenidge no such contradiction exists. Greenidge said the argument that there is contradiction between subsections in the Act is ‘nancy story’ being told by Dr. Singh.

“It is an attempt to overthrow a unanimous decision by the House,” he lamented.

Greenidge said that the Government has been exercising its functions irresponsibly and called on the House to reject the amendment as being unworthy, which was upheld by his colleagues on that side of the House.

Moreover, the Finance Minister argued that the system involving the Government has been in existence for a considerable length of time. He declared that substantial progress has been made in making the procurement system in Guyana open and transparent, a comment that induced an uproar counter comments from the opposition benches.

Dr. Singh had submitted that the move by his Administration was not intended to diminish the functions of the PPC which are constitutionally enshrined and urged the preservation of cabinet’s right to a no objection, stating that the PPC will still be able to do its functions.

However, Greenidge contends that the Administration is not interested in establishing the PPC. He believes there is no guarantee against what he said was manipulations in the awarding of public contracts.

The APNU MP told the House that the Government has been exercising it no objection role without any consultation which shouldn’t be, making a case for the rejection of the body’s continued role with the establishment of the PPC.

Dr. Singh further argued that the Administration cannot be held responsible when there is no role for it in the procurement process “for as long as well will hold the executive and cabinet responsible …. We cannot exclude the executive and the cabinet from this process”

Meanwhile, the Alliance for Change lone contributor to the debate, Leader Khemraj Ramjattan contends there are several misconceptions of the Act and the role of the PPC.

He said he could not understand why this was so when according to him the Act lacks ambiguity in any way.

Ramjattan recalled several members of the Government side who had supported the Act and the amendment which they voted for and passed in the House and was accented to by the President within days.

Dr. Singh who piloted the amendment expressed regret that his arguments and that of his colleagues failed to persuade opposition members.

“It is most unfortunate this abandonment of principle.”

Others contributing to the debate on the amendment were Attorney General Anil Nandlall, APNU Member Jairam Sharma and PPP MP Manzoor Nadir.

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