Moonilal: Don’t hold your breath on procurement law

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

OROPOUCHE East MP Dr Roodal Moonilal said the population should not expect the full implementation of public procurement legislation anytime soon.

He alleged this is because the Government is not transparent and does not want to account to the public on any matter.

Moonilal made these statements in his contribution to debate on ten motions filed by Finance Minister Colm Imbert to approve several regulations on public procurement and disposal of public property in the House of Representatives on Friday

After saying Trinidad and Tobago has had an amazing history of improper public procurement across several different administrations, Moonilal said some people believed the approval of these regulations would finally see the implementation of effective public procurement law.

But he had one message for them: “Don’t hold your breath.”

Moonilal based his pessimistic outlook on a parliamentary joint select committee meeting earlier in the week, where it was reported that only 70 out of 314 entities had responded to the Office of the Procurement Regulator’s (OPR) inquiries about their readiness to implement the legislation.

“I stood there in shock. The (Finance) Minister may want to tell us something about this.”

Moonilal thought after years of waiting for this legislation, many entities would have been eager and excited to respond to the OPR’s inquiries.

While praising the work of the OPR since September 2019 to get organisations ready for the legislation, Moonilal said the response of the 70 entities to the OPR’s inquiries did not mean they were ready. He asked if state enterprises and other state agencies had in-house plans in place to implement the legislation.

Citing the National Infrastructure Development Company (Nidco) and the Urban Development Corporation (Udecott) as two of the biggest procurement agencies for the Government, Moonilal reminded the public that between 2009 and 2010, Udecott was the subject of a commission of inquiry on public procurement.

He recalled that in that time, a cricket stadium originally estimated to cost $1.3 million was eventually built at a cost of $1.3 billion. Moonilal claimed no form of international or regional cricket could be played there to date.

“That is a fete-match stadium.”

He cited the Project Pride and rapid rail projects as other instances of questionable procurement under former PNM governments. Moonilal made it clear that these challenges were experienced by all governments. He recalled the former UNC-led People’s Partnership coalition government tried to address them by passing public procurement legislation in 2014.

Moonilal lamented that regulations to the legislation were only now being debated by Parliament, and claimed the PNM had watered it down to exclude areas such as legal and medical services and government-to-government arrangements from proper oversight.

Moonilal also questioned the process whereby consultants were procured under the PNM.

Referring to the hiring of US lobbyist Arthur Collins in 2018 to interact with US lawmakers on Government’s behalf, Moonilal said, “We have never heard that the contract ended.”

He also claimed the Prime Minister’s response to a question in Parliament about Collins’ hiring raised more questions than answers.

According to Moonilal, Dr Rowley’s response was, “I know him. I thought he was good. I hired him.”

The covid19 pandemic, Moonilal continued, causes many people to accept what the Government says without question because the public’s health is at stake.

He said no one may ever know the real cost of acquiring covid19 vaccines, because those arrangements were governed by non-disclosure agreements.

“So what is disclosure?”

Barataria/San Juan MP Saddam Hosein agreed, saying under the regulations, financial institutions were not subject to be blacklisted if they were believed to have breached public procurement legislation.

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