By LYNAIRE MUNNINGS
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE executive director of the Organisation for Responsible Governance (ORG) supports government’s plans to reform the Public Procurement Act, saying that there is still opportunity for strengthening.
Governance reformer Matt Aubry has spoken on the public procurement legislation repeatedly, having previously given recommendations to the government.
Mr Aubry is hopeful that The Bahamas is able to take the necessary steps to make the awarding of government contracts more open, transparent and accessible after progress had stalled following the Public Procurement Act’s implementation during the Minnis administration’s final days.
He also highlighted aspects of the Public Procurement Act which “maintained a very high standard”, while also suggesting aspects to be incorporated.
“We found that in the instance of the Procurement Act, that there were a lot of things that still maintained a very high standard,” he told this newspaper yesterday.
“So, the requirement to publish (notice of a contract award) within 60 days across the government, that was something that brings tremendous amounts of transparency, and so we’re really glad that something like that continues.”
He continued: “Although neither administration yet has enacted it, what we do here is that there’s a process in place, and a new vendor that will be utilised to start with reporting those, that’s going to be a critical element and if that’s able to happen, it creates great opportunity for a lot more folks on taking advantage of government contracts.
“Another thing that we saw in the new bill, was the specification for preferences in the prior act it had talked about as having a domestic preference, which basically means that you could put greater weight on local vendors, over international vendors. This act made it even more specific and said specifically youth-owned businesses, Family Island-owned businesses, and businesses owned by women, which is phenomenal and we very much support that.”
Mr Aubry reiterated ORG’s recommendation to be more inclusive of individuals with disabilities, which would be in support of the Disabilities Act.
Asserting that it was critical that the government now “build trust in the system” that all bidders will be treated fairly, and have an equal opportunity to provide goods and services to the public sector, he voiced concern about the reformed act, saying that the government failed to present how the process is appealed.
“What we know in procurement, an active and transparent procurement process, can be a tremendous movement to reduce the potential of any type of corruption, because it’s transparent,” he said yesterday.
“It’s all the vendors need to be registered and vetted and then the processes of how those selections are made should be really specific. And both the prior act and this one have lots of specificity in that instance.
“But when you get when you say made an appeal, or you’ve made a bid, and that bid was taken by somebody else was won by somebody else, and you have a concern that it might have been chosen for some other reason, having a very clear and independent way to appeal, that process to get it looked at independently, is really important in terms of building folks’ trust and compliance with this type of legislation.”
Public procurement, if used correctly, and in a fair, transparent and accountable manner with open, competitive bidding for government contracts can be an important tool of national development by facilitating the growth of small and medium-sized businesses.
It can also ensure taxpayers receive value for money, and eliminate waste, inefficiencies and other unnecessary expenses and loss in the tender process.
The House of Assembly passed the Public Procurement Bill and Public Finance Management Bill on Wednesday. Prime Minister Philip Davis said the legislation, once enacted, will allow improved government financial management and greater transparency.
The bills will also repeal and replace the Public Finance Management Act 2021, the Fiscal Responsibility Act 2018 and sections of the Financial Administration and Audit Act and The Public Procurement Act 2021.
On Wednesday, Mr Davis said the government’s digital procurement platform has generated $2.6m savings in just four months since its launch, as close to 1,500 companies have registered with the electronic portal with almost 300 public sector contracts put out to bid through it.
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