Jeanette Calder | Should Heroes Circle investors comply, or get 'bly'?
Last year, the Government of Jamaica announced that it had received an unsolicited proposal for a public-private partnership from China Construction Company, South America (CCASA) to develop a master plan that resulted in the signing of a memorandum of understanding with CCASA and the GOJ-Urban Development Corporation.
A March 10, 2017, Gleaner article headlined 'New Parliament building moves closer' announced that "the signing of the MOU is the first phase of the project, which will see the CCASA providing consultancy services for the design concept for the new Parliament ... ".
For those who might have paused to wonder why CCASA, the Government's use of the word 'unsolicited' might have been reassuring as it implies that it was not the Government, but CCASA that initiated the discussions. Based on the 2012 Public-Private-Partnership (PPP) Policy and the Handbook of Procurement, it cannot be considered an unsolicited proposal, and even if it were, the treatment of it seems improper.
Here's what the policy requires:
1. Section 3 sets out four key principles that MUST be present. Two relate to identifying the "least-cost-practical way to achieve project benefits" and the other is to "make sure that the public is informed at all times". Another important provision is that "no person is unjustifiably advantaged or disadvantaged by the project".
As citizens required to foot the bill, we have a right to answers to the following questions: Why has there been no open competitive process to ensure least-cost and best benefits? Has there been sufficient consultation with stakeholders (especially communities impacted, development professionals, etc)? Doesn't the exclusive partnership with CCASA render them unjustifiably advantaged? Hasn't the MOU with CCASA not put other firms, whether local, regional or international, at a competitive disadvantage, especially if as the sole designated concept designer for the project CCASA later competes for the job as developer?
2. Section 9 of the PPP Policy defines unsolicited proposals as being those "made by a private party to undertake a PPP project submitted at the initiative of the private firm - rather than in response to a request from the Government".
The policy then guides both the Government and the private company on how Jamaica treats with unsolicited proposals for projects that are not on the GOJ's identified PPP list and those that are. In BOTH cases, the Government's policy requires that a competitive tender process is introduced to ensure that the people of Jamaica get what they deserve - the best design, the best cost and the best maintenance plan.
Where the project is the private entity's idea, the tender process is designed in a way to treat fairly with the firm and protect its proprietary information, but the vital point is that competition is required.
The Government needs to tell the people of Jamaica, in line with Section 23.3 of the 2015 Public Procurement Act, what made them deviate from such sound international best practice and its own policy.
The Handbook of Public Procurement further sets out, in Vol 2, the three early assessment criteria to guide the Cabinet. I am of the view that the CCASA proposal does not satisfy ANY of those requirements, namely, that it should (1) "demonstrate a unique and innovative concept" or "unique capacity of the contractor"; (2) offer a service that Government cannot obtain elsewhere; and (3) it is a project need that is already identified by the GOJ. What, therefore, compelled the Government to proceed?
Last year, Jamaica was assessed for its "PPP readiness" and received a very commendable report in the 2017 Infrascope Report. Jamaica moved from eighth to fourth place of 19 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Our international reputation is put at risk when we fail to stick to the 'rules of the game'. Shall Jamaica continue to cherry-pick which investors are forced to comply and which ones get a 'bly'?