Opposition whip: Proposed procurement amendment ‘dangerous’

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Opposition chief whip David Lee on his way to Parliament in May. – Jeff Mayers

OPPOSITION chief whip David Lee has described as “dangerous,” a proposed amendment to the Procurement Act which stipulates that goods and services amounting to less that $1 million will be exempt from the existing legislation.

The measure, contained in clause four of the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Property (Amendment and Validation) Bill 2023, provides that the procurement of goods and services of up to $1 million are exempt from the act. This amendment is subject to regulations made by the minister.

At a PNM meeting in Tunapuna on Thursday night, the Prime Minister announced that the House of Representatives will meet on Wednesday to make urgent changes to the Procurement Act.

He told supporters Finance Minister Colm Imbert had to retroactively approve spending on goods and services for the Caricom heads of government meeting, which took place in TT, last week.

Dr Rowley noted under the current legislation, no one could do business in a period of under two months, the time to allow for tenders, responses and the consideration of an advisory committee on procurement.

He argued the current procurement set up cannot be maintained because the government would not be able to function.

Rowley claimed the Opposition UNC was eagerly awaiting to see what procurement measures would be in place for the Commonwealth Youth Games, which runs from August 4-11, as well as the visit of Asantehene Otumfuo Osei Tutu II, the Ashanti King of Ghana, for Emancipation celebrations on August 1.

UNC MP Saddam Hosein drew attention to the issue at a news conference, last Sunday, saying that before the Caricom meeting at the Hyatt Regency in Port of Spain, Imbert had signed an order on June 29 for goods and services to be exempted from the Procurement Act for three months.

He deemed the move “illegal,” arguing that the order could only be approved by affirmative resolution in the Parliament.

Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar said on Friday the government does not have the power to recall Parliament to make changes to the Procurement Act, alluding to the House’s standing orders, the Constitution and Erskine’s May’s Parliamentary practice to support the Opposition’s position.

On Saturday, Lee said to the UNC will meet in caucus to decide if it will participate in Wednesday’s debate on the proposed amendments.

“We will have to caucus with the leader and decide. So, it’s still early days. Wednesday is Parliament,” he told Sunday Newsday.

Lee accused the government of “breaking the law and trying to fix it.”

“They did an illegal act. They broke the law and now they are trying to come behind when they were caught and now trying to fix the law.”

He added, “One of the amendments they are bringing, which is very dangerous, is that any goods and services under $1 million does not need to go through the rigours of the procurement legislation. So that anyone, whether it’s a minister, PS, Imbert or Rowley, could approve that without the rigours of what the Procurement Act says.

A UNC supporter waves a flag at UNC-NTA meeting, Tarouba Grounds, Tarouba on Saturday. – Jeff Mayers

“Now that is a dangerous amendment because what they are now doing is trying to make themselves not accountable for a $1 million or less expenditure. That is insane.”

Lee, who is also the Pointe-a-Pierre MP, said business chambers and civil society organisations should not accept such an amendment.

“The same civil societies that are up in arms to pass the procurement legislation, they could never be in agreement with this because it goes against everything about the procurement act and what it is supposed to stand for – accountability and transparency. I hope civil society and the chambers stand up against this because it goes against the grain of what the Procurement Act is supposed to be about.”

He said the government knew it was going to host the Caricom meeting a long time ago.

“They could have done the proper procedure if they wanted to provide for goods and services for the Caricom event. So it is not that they did not know. You cannot have a Caricom event, inviting all of the Prime Ministers of Caricom, the US Secretary of State, on a whim and a fancy. They knew long in advance that they were going to have a summit.

“So this foolishness that Imbert is trying to say that they didn’t know, that is foolishness, trying to send a narrative to the population. They keep taking the population for fools.”

Lee, who lauded Hosein for bringing the issue to the public’s attention, said it would have been addressed further on Saturday evening during a meeting at the Tarouba grounds. Independent senators Drs Varma Deyalsingh and Maria Dillon-Remy said they had not seen the amendments to the legislation and could not comment.


The amendments

* Clause four of the bill would introduce a new section 58 A to provide that the procurement of goods and services of up to one million dollars are exempt from the Act. This exemption is subject to regulations made by the minister.

* Clause five of the bill would amend section 63 of the act to empower the minister to not only act on the advice of the office but also in his own discretion. The clause would also include regulations for the procedures for the procurement of goods and services of up to one million dollars fall under section 58 A. The clause would also change the requirement for regulations made under section 63 (1) to be subject to affirmative resolution to now provide that regulations made under subsection 63 (1) will be subject to negative resolution of Parliament

* Clause six of the bill would seek to validate any statutory instruments made and any actions taken under those statutory instruments. The clause would deem the instruments and actions taken to be lawfully and validly made and done to the extent that they would have been lawfully and validly made and done had the instruments complied with the requirements of section 7 (7) of the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Property Act.