Procurement Regulator prepares for new regime despite inaction by state entities

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday


Moonilal Lalchan –

VERY few state entities have readied themselves for the full enactment of the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Property Act 2015 but meanwhile the Office of the Procurement Regulator (OPR) has filed certain information received for action whenever the act and its regulations are enacted, learnt the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) in a virtual hearing on Wednesday.

Procurement Regulator Moonilal Lalchan led an OPR team which appeared, with Finance Ministry officials, before the PAC chaired by Davendranath Tancoo.

Tancoo asked if a current absence of regulations and a mere partial proclamation of procurement legislation had affected the OPR’s work. Lalchan replied “Yes, it has stymied us.”

He said his office had received requests to investigate 18 matters but had been unable to do audits or investigations owing to the legislative gap. He said, right now, the OPR could only write to the relevant ministries for their action, but if the act were fully in force the OPR could have investigated and directly sent its findings to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP.)

Tancoo said, “You’ve tried to do as much as you can as an organisation while you wait on the regulations but while that has been happening millions and billions of dollars have been spent on the award of contracts.”

He lamented the poor response of state agencies to the OPR’s Readiness Assessment Checklist Report when asked about their preparedness for the act, which awaits full proclamation and which aims to curb corruption and promote accountability.

Tancoo said that out of 314 organisations, only 20 had provided responses, according to report, but he later changed this figure to 70 respondents.

He said the vast majority of entities did not submit a report to the OPR to say if they had documentation, personnel, support and financing to implement the legislation or its guidelines, procedures or protocols.

“While you are doing phenomenal job in putting in place the documentation, it appears to me that public bodies, government agencies, have not in fact either been respectful of your office or been willing to supply information as required by law.”

Tancoo said the report was damning. He said 84 per cent of the bodies lacked an organisational structure to allow a delegation of authority, in complying with the act.

“Only 34 out of 314 organisations have recruited, developed and retained competent individuals to oversee the implementation of this regulation.”

On the basis of a $52 billion national budget and the OECD’s estimation of 10-30 per cent of any public monies being vulnerable to corruption, Tancoo estimated $5.2 billion in potential leakage of public funds. He urged more be done to ensure regulation and proclaim the act.

Lalchan said, “We have started developing files with particular information and once it falls within our jurisdiction, once the act is proclaimed, we have the information in the files already ready to start those discussions.”