Rowley: Govt will ‘fix’ Procurement Act in Parliament next week

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley speaks at a PNM public meeting at Hillview College, El Dorado, on Thursday night. – Anisto Alves

THE Prime Minister said the House of Representatives will sit next Wednesday to make urgent changes to the Procurement Act.

He was addressing a PNM rally at Hillview College, Tunapuna, on Thursday night.

Dr Rowley referred to the fact of Finance Minister Colm Imbert having to issue an order to retroactively approve spending on goods and services for last week’s Caricom leaders meeting in TT. He said the present law meant no one could do business in a period of under two months, the time to facilitate tenders, responses and the input of an advisory committee on procurement.

“We have to come back to Parliament to amend it.

“If we don’t pass a law to put sensible arrangements in place, TT will grind to a halt.”

He said he had sworn an oath of office to put the people of TT first. He criticised the Opposition for complaining about Imbert using the law to give a procurement exemption for Caricom. “That’s the kind of nonsense in this country!” The PM said a plan to buy flowers for the Diplomatic Centre last week was curtailed due to procurement challenges where the supplier was not registered at the Office of the Procurement Regulator while also needing to be up to date with their tax returns.

Rowley said the current procurement arrangement cannot be allowed to stand because the Government would not be able to function. He lamented that the Procurement Act’s requirements did not distinguish between buying trite items such as doubles and toilet paper and big items such as funding a highway.

“Today, I have directed the Leader of Government Business (Camille Robinson-Regis) to recall Parliament on Wednesday next week.

“The Government will go to Parliament, use the majority you have given us, and make sensible amendments to the law.

“We are not afraid of Parliament or the court house but of being like them (the Opposition).”

He alleged that the Opposition was keenly awaiting to see what procurement arrangements would be in place for the upcoming Junior Commonwealth Games and the visit of the King of Ashante.

“The Government, which I lead with your support, will fix it.”

Rowley revealed the Integrity Commission had contacted him to say they had no further interest in his purchase of a $1.2 million townhouse in Tobago, which critics had complained of.

“But the lie served its purpose,” he added, noting that the criticisms had come at the time of an election for the Tobago House of Assembly (THA.)

Otherwise, he appealed to voters to choose PNM in the August 14 local government elections, citing the party’s record in central government and its plans for local government reform, saying political rivals had no response to the latter. He said reform would prevent a situation of a council’s elected councillors complaining of being overridden by their CEO or a council having no resources to cut grass at its recreational parks.

While detailing the Government’s track record on national issues, he said this was now local government election time.

“The general election is due. I have no intention of calling it before it is due.”

Earlier, he began his speech by saying it was a local government election after which his Government would remain in office. He accused opponents of trying to stir up national issues, while the Government was satisfying people’s needs.

He said, in the pandemic, the Government had paid businesses to retain their workers, kept all public servants employed and given people food. He noted government borrowed $13 billion to support those initiatives. Even in difficult times when TT’s overdraft reached 98 per cent, the Government had faith in the country and its people, he related.

Rowley chided the Public Services Association (PSA) for appealing to the Privy Council on the Government’s four per cent wage increase for public servants.

“All those who demanding more and more from less and less: public servants, if a Government comes in to office and offers and gives you more than the country could afford, the only way that could be managed is to cut employment in the public service.”

Saying Moody’s rating agency just upgraded TT, Rowley said political rivals were not raising the economy as an election issue.

PNM supporters at a public meeting at Hillview College, El Dorado on Thursday night. – Anisto Alves

“We brought the overdraft down to 50 per cent. This didn’t happen by accident.”

Saying in 2015 he was told TT would collect no new oil taxes until 2024, Rowley recalled, “I said to BP ‘Not on your nelly. We will change that.’

“Today we are earning billions more – that we would not have had – under the same contracts!

“We are producing less oil and less gas but where the more money came from? Because the earning formula was changed, as a result of this Government’s intervention.

“But you’re listening to people bad mouth the PNM. People who never managed a fowl coop, never managed a parlour, can’t manage their own life, disgraceful in their own conduct – offering themselves to run a country – and you’re telling me you’re going to vote for them because you’re tired of the PNM?

“The PNM is what stood between you and disaster, and now stands between you and them.”

Recalling the recent visit to TT of WHO head Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus as a strong endorsement of the Government’s fight against the pandemic, he said while the Government had been working with doctors and nurses against covid19, political opponents had taken the Government to court 65 times.

On agriculture, the PM said 200,000 pounds of rice seed had just reached into TT to restart the local rice industry by planting 3,000 acres. Thousands of youngsters were being brought into agriculture by the Ministry of Youth Development and National Service, he added.

Regarding industry, Rowley said most Point Lisas industries had been operating on month-to-month gas-supply contracts, but his Government had renegotiated each of contract, and sought to reduce gas-supply liability claims such as one from $2.5 billion down to $500 million.

Blaming the UNC for a US$300 million claim now in arbitration over a cancelled smelter, he said, “While all this is on our back as a people, the very people are coming now and saying ‘Elect me! I am your salvation.”

Rowley chided 12 abstentions and seven absences by UNC MPs on the House debate on local government reform. He alleged “a monstrous lie” by the Opposition that the Government wanted to introduce an inheritance tax to TT.

“Not a single person in Government – in a radio programme, in a TV programme, in a column, in an article, in a joke – ever mentioned that. That was never an issue in this county but they want something to incite people that you’re going to lose something.”

On foreign relations, Rowley boasted of last week’s visit by a US delegation including US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and US House of Representatives Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries. Saying it was TT that had reinserted the Caribbean Single Market and Economy back onto the Caricom agenda, he said regional heads had last week approved free movement across the region.

On crime, Rowley accused the Opposition of opposing everything the Government tried against crime.

He said, “I can’t pick up the phone and tell the Commissioner of Police what to do. That is political interference.”