JCC ‘appalled by AG’s excuses’ on procurement law

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Attorney General Reginald Armour, SC, at his first media conference, Office of the Attorney General, Port of Spain on Wednesday. Photo by Jeff K Mayers

THE Joint Consultative Council (JCC) accused the Government of making excuses and not being committed to enacting procurement legislation, in a hard-hitting statement on Thursday.

This was in response to remarks on Wednesday by Attorney General Reginald Armour, SC.

The JCC is an umbrella body for the construction industry whose members include professional bodies for engineers, architects, planners, surveyors and contractors.

The JCC said it was “appalled by statements by the AG” in giving the House of Representatives an update on the status of the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Property Bill.

“The AG provided only excuses for the non-operationalisation of the Office of the Procurement Regulation (OPR) with no stated deadlines for addressing these concerns that he listed via (an) 11th-hour consultation with the Judiciary.”

The JCC said the AG had sought to placate the public by saying the Prime Minister “has been driving the work of the Cabinet” on many amendments to this legislation to refine it and make it workable.

But it declared, “The JCC finds this obvious spin intolerable and tantamount to an abdication of duty, particularly after repeated commitments by this administration to have the PPDP Act fully implemented prior to and since coming into Government in 2015.”

The council said the Government’s inability to implement this languishing legislation was “a direct reflection of their lack of commitment to transparency, accountability and value for money” when spending public funds.”

It said “hiding” behind this “new stated excuse” that it was acting responsibly was an indictment on the Government’s performance in public office.

“We therefore call again on the Prime Minister to address these matters that are allegedly keeping back the full proclamation of the legislation before the next budget is read in Parliament.”

The JCC questioned the Judiciary (among others), whose challenges in preparing for the new legislation Armour read out on Wednesday at a briefing at his ministry.

The JCC said, “It is our considered opinion that if various state agencies, including the Judiciary, cannot get their house in order for responsible procurement practice, after all the hard work done by the OPR since 2017, then these agencies should not be spending public money.”

The council noted that compliance only becomes mandatory after the legislation is fully implemented.

At his briefing Armour detailed “traffic-stopping” remarks from the Judiciary on operationalising the legislation in its current form.

The Judiciary was concerned about a lack of separation of powers, the OPR’s wide authority, little assurance of due process, abuse by way of challenges to a public body’s procurement activity, hindering the law courts, understaffing of the Judiciary’s procurement unit, fears of more public-law litigation, a hefty workload for the Judiciary, and a huge impact on its operations.

The AG quoted the commentary by the Judiciary in its administrative capacity.

This said, “It is the view of the Judiciary that the effect of this legislation on the processes and operations of the Judiciary (and other public bodies) has not yet been truly understood, and that the level of bureaucracy, record-keeping, paperwork, as well as the staff needed to ensure its proper application, are not yet properly assessed.

“The policy requiring existing staff to undertake this work is unrealistic.”

The Judiciary advocated for in-house attorneys to handle the drafting of contracts and review the preparation of tender documents for every procurement.

It commented, “The responsibility placed on the procurement officer and the accounting officer is immense and to require them to address it without sound legal support, at risk of grave penalty, is unwise.”