UNC Senator Jayanti Lutchmedial – Photo by Angelo Marcelle
OPPOSITION Senator Jayanti Lutchmedial on Tuesday accused the Government of having gradually whittled down the oversight powers of procurement legislation, since originally passed by the People’s Partnership (PP) Government in 2015.
In the Senate, she moved a private motion in the name of Opposition Senator Wade Mark to annul the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Property (Exemption)(Financing Services) Order 2023.
The order, dated September 7, exempts the procurement of financing services for the goverment or a public body by the Ministry of Finance.
Lutchmedial described the order as “surreptitious,” accusing the Government of legislating through the back door.
She lamented that now in TT, billions of dollars were excluded from accountability.
Lutchmedial said corruption had plagued the public service for decades, but the PP regime had brought the Procurement Act on the basic of advice garnered at public consultations and from the findings of commissions of enquiry.
However she said the PNM had walked out of a joint select committee (JSC) on procurememt legislation and then had not supported the bill on the parliamentary floor but had abstained from voting. Lutchmedial lamented that 2020 had seen the “most dastardly act of decimation” against the procurement bill.
“We have a history of things being removed by amendments,” she said, saying the justification offered for these had been “wishy washy.”
Independent Senator Sunity Maharaj said the failure of people and institutions to accept the requirements of the act had led Government in the wrong direction of continuously requesting exemptions.
“There was supposed to be training, all the deficiencies in the public sector were to be plugged, and we were to prepare people.”
She said the Procurement Regulator had held many workshops to help organisations get their suppliers into the system. Some entities came to terms with the fact that the legislation would come into effect and if you didn’t get your ducks in a row, you would have problems. “We are leaving the door open if we don’t deal with the private sector’s truculence and inability to come to terms even with the limited Procurement Act. The public is already disappointed that a piece of legislation which was supposed to temper corruption, though I call some of it expediency, hollowed out and hollowed out.
“The Government and its agencies are not prepared.”
Maharaj said the legislation was meant to change a culture of corruption that came out of expediency after TT’s Independence.
“We are trying to get out of a system of centralised power and when you have a system, you have fertile ground for the person with power to cut corners for you. We are a society where contacts are the preferred way to get things done.”
Maharaj said the legislation deserved top support and an understanding of how governments were accountable and the value of transparency.
Independent Senator Maria Dillon-Remy said financial services must be defined in the act, as it was too broad.
She agreed with Maharaj that obstacles kept being placed in the way of the act functioning as it should. Dillon-Remy said while Government constantly castigated the Opposition for doing things that were not financially right, but would have left the act for another finance minister to deal with.
In closing the debate, Lutchmedial said the PNM government had never wanted procurement legislation and accountability in the spending of public monies. She said the Government would continue to whittle away at the piece of legislation that is supposed to change how business is done with taxpayers’ money in TT.