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…billions in sole-sourced contracts awarded
By Svetlana Marshall
With billions in sole-sourced contracts being awarded amid little oversight, newly elected Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), Jermaine Figueira said the Parliamentary Committee, in redoubling its efforts, will place major emphasis on the reconstitution of the Public Procurement Commission (PPC).
“We will redouble our efforts to get the work done by meeting as often as possible to complete much work,” Figueira said.
According to the United Nations, every year, an estimated US$1 trillion is paid in bribes and US$2.6 trillion is stolen through corruption. Together, this sum represents 5% of annual global GDP. Further, in developing countries, funds lost to corruption are estimated to be ten times the amount of the overall Official Development Assistance. Public procurement accounts for a significant amount of government spending, with the OECD estimates that countries spend an average of 13-20% of their GDPs on procurement. The OECD Foreign Bribery Report (2014) shows that more than half of foreign bribery cases occurred to obtain a public procurement contract.
In an interview with Village Voice Newspaper back in April Chartered Accountant and Attorney-at-law, Christopher Ram said the situation of the absent PPC was wholly unacceptable. “We could be losing billions of dollars because of the failure of our political parties to ensure that there is continuity in our financial arrangements,” Ram said. The PPC, among other functions, is required to investigate complaints from suppliers, contractors and public entities as well as investigate cases of irregularity and mismanagement and propose remedial action but with the Commission being expired, there is no one to carefully monitor the award of contracts.
Stabroek News, in a report published back in February, 2021, said that over a period of four months, Western Scientific, a Trinidadian company, and New Guyana Pharmaceutical Corporation (NGPC) received the “lion’s share of contracts for over $5B in pharmaceuticals and medical supplies sales” while smaller companies were sidelined.
Figueira – an A Partnership for National Unity + Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC) Member of Parliament from Region 10 – was elected chairman on Friday (July 2), thereby bringing an end to a five-month long stalemate, which to the latter stages, saw the removal of APNU+AFC Member of Parliament, David Patterson from the chairmanship of the PAC by way of a majority vote in the National Assembly. It was the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C), which had tabled a No-Confidence Motion against MP Patterson.
The impasse not only stalled the review of the Auditor General’s Report on the Audit of the Public Accounts but also the process of nominating persons to sit on the PPC. According to Article 212 X (2) of the Constitution, the President shall appoint the members of the Commission based on nominations made by the Public Accounts Committee and approved by not less than two-thirds of the elected members of the National Assembly.
MP Figueira told this newspaper that as a matter of priority, the PAC during its next meeting will discuss nominations for the Commission. “That is going to be first on the agenda,” he said.
He said already the PAC has received a number of nominations for persons to sit on the Commission. It has been approximately nine months since the life of the old Commission, headed by Carol Corbin – a Project Management Professional – expired.
Established under Article 212 W of the Constitution of Guyana, the PPC is responsible for the monitoring of public procurement and the procedure in order to ensure that the procurement of goods, services and the execution of works are conducted in a fair, equitable, transparent, competitive and cost effective manner.
THE PUBLIC ACCOUNTS
The PAC Chairman said with the Auditor General’s Reports on the Audit of the Public Accounts for 2016, 2017 and 2018 still to be scrutinised, the Committee is hoping to meet at least twice per week in an effort to complete its task ahead of recess in August.
“We have the 2016 Reports to deal with and we will be merging the 2017 and 2018 reports. We are trying to get as much work as possible done before Parliament goes into recess…So we will be redoubling our efforts,” MP Figueira told this newspaper.
At Friday’s sitting of the PAC at the Public Building, MP Figueira, upon being elected Chairman, thanked the Speaker of the National Assembly, Manzoor Nadir for facilitating the election. However, he said it would have been remised of him not to allude to the grave miscarriage of justice against MP Patterson, who he said, was doing a phenomenal job as Chairman.
“His removal by the said motion we believe sets a very bad precedent on the architecture of the procedural aspect of matters of the House and other committees. The removal of Patterson is no victory,” the PAC Chairman said.
Nonetheless, he thanked his colleagues for reposing confidence in him. “It speaks to the view of our Guyanese vernacular, that when you remove one Rasta another will take his place and we on this side of the House will, with a whirlwind of resoluteness, manage the affairs of this committee to ensure transparency and accountability of the people’s money,” he said.