I maintain that the $44.4M contract awarded to the GDF must be made null and void

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Dear Editor,

I wish to respond to the article in the Kaieteur News published on November 18, 2021, titled ‘We did not bid for the $44M hospital project – GDF states. This was in response to my letter which indicated that it is unfair competition for the Guyana Defence Force (GDF) to participate in public procurement processes.

The article stated ‘the Defence Force said that it does not participate in public bidding processes. In fact, the GDF said that it is the President, Dr. Irfaan Ali, who wants the Force to play a role in national development. “President and Commander-in-Chief, Dr. Irfaan Ali, shortly after taking office, articulated his vision for the Guyana Defence Force. As part of that vision, was his desire to see the Force play a greater role in national development”. The article further stated, “It is in this regard, that the Force has partnered with Regional Democratic Councils to execute a number of community projects in several administrative regions…”.

I support President Ali’s vision for the Guyana Defence Force to play a greater role in national development. I also support the GDF partnering with the Regional Democratic Councils (RDCs) to provide support on development programmes and projects. However, the Guyana Defence Force can only participate in development projects once these conform to the national and international procurement and financial laws and regulations, and that the means of acquiring funds are transparent and accountable, even if it is implementing the President’s vision. The President’s vision must be rolled out within the perimeters set out by the law.

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There are two important points to note here; one is that the GDF has highly skilled, well trained and discipline engineers, and members as a whole, who can contribute much to development, and this is a good thing for the country and the organization; however, it is not a construction or private sector agency, it is a military organization and a state agency, therefore it must be treated as such.

The second point is the means by which the G$44.4 M was awarded to the GDF. The British High Commission cannot award a G$44.4M contract to the Guyana Defence Force for the construction of hospital, as was done in this case. Therefore, my suggestion is that the High Commission put this project on hold until the proper procurement procedures are complied with.

One way of correcting this is for the British High Commission to give the G$44.4 M as a grant to the Ministry of Public Works or the Ministry of Health, and then the GDF engineers could be seconded to either of these ministries, in order to execute the construction of the hospital. In this way, the accountability responsibilities for the grant lies with the ministry, which is a more appropriate organization for this transaction and not the GDF.

However, even if the project is done through a grant to one of the ministries above, another issue may be, how to justify bypassing the National Procurement and Tender Administration Board (NPTAB) without a competitive bidding/tender process, as stipulated by law which again, raises the question of unfair competition.

It is commendable that the United Kingdom Department for International Development is facilitating the Smart Healthcare Facilities in the Caribbean project which has a budget of over $835 million (US$4.175 million) and that Guyana’s health facilities such as the Diamond Diagnostic Hospital, the Leonora Diagnostic and Treatment Centre, Mabaruma Regional Hospital and the Paramakatoi Health Centre, will benefit, however, the proper procurement process must be complied with in order to ensure transparency and greater accountability.

What I find disappointing, is that the British High Commission did not inform the government that it is not allowed to conduct its business in this manner. Some of my broader concerns are relative to issues around organizational/institutional and societal behaviour. If one should study the issues and causes of conflicts in Haiti, one of the main problems is due to internal challenges, for e.g., former law enforcement and military officers play a significant role, as a part of the illicit power structures. Hence, we should become very concerned when G$44M dollars could be ‘thrown’ at the GDF without possibly proper transparency and accountability measures being adhered to.

Just in case some may think that this is about preventing the GDF from growing or expanding their resource-base, I would like to share some of my own experiences on sticking to the rules in the interest of preserving the integrity, and even for the mere survival of an organization, the Guyana Sugar Corporation Inc. (GuySuCo).

One day, Mr. Errol Hanoman who was the then Chief Executive of GuySuCo, said something to me that was profound, he said that ‘GuySuCo is lucky to have someone with your skill sets at this time because it is not very often someone like you would come to this organization because the Corporation would normally get the best engineers, chemists, agriculturalists, accountants and human resources people but not the best in your field; people with your skills usually go to international organisations’. He was referring to my knowledge and understanding of organizational and societal behaviour, change management, leadership, etc.

After a year in GuySuCo, I was promoted and the then Human Resources Director said something again, that was profound, he said to me that I was the first person he knew who rewrote their job description. These comments helped me to understand what I brought to the organization and that I was not just an obstructionist.

I have worked with three Chief Executives at GuySuCo and one of the roles I played was to insist that they and the management stuck to the rules, despite a difficult reorganization process, political influences, etc. I remember saying the Chief Executives things such as, ‘even if a Minister, Chairman of the Board of Directors for another agency should ask you do something contrary to the laws, policies, regulations of the company, you don’t have to do it and we [management] will not let you do it because you hold a duty to the organisation as the Chief Executive and Director which a Minister or Chairman of the Board of another agency does not have’. In this instance the Chief-of-Staff holds a duty to the Guyana Defence Force that the President does not have, and therefore he has to hold that line.

I am sharing my experience particularly, for public officers. I understand that officers in government and state agencies may not always have bosses like Errol Hanoman, Paul Bhim, Dr. Harold Davis, or an Earl John, and they can eventually get fired for taking a stand, as I was. The Chief-of-Staff can possibly face consequences for taking a stand on a matter with the President, but if it means that the integrity of the Guyana Defence Force, as an organization will be preserved, then so be it. GuySuCo survived, largely because of the principled position the management took, during our tenure.

I therefore maintain that the G$44.4M contract awarded to the GDF must be made null and void

Yours faithfully,
Audreyanna Thomas



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