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CAUTION!Senators wary of CARICOM entities gobbling up local contracts

Published:Sunday | November 23, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Montague
Frazer-Binns
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Daraine Luton, Senior Staff Reporter

SENATOR Robert Montague has cautioned the Government about putting in place a regional procurement system in which the opportunity to secure contracts in other Caribbean countries is not reciprocated to Jamaican entities.

And the opposition senator is getting support from a government senator, Sophia Frazer-Binns, who is concerned that insufficient protection could be accorded to Jamaican firms

According to Montague, while CARICOM has agreed to the imple-mentation of a regional mechanism, Jamaica should not rush into the deal but should await a simultaneous implementation by all member states.

"Other CARICOM states are giving consideration. There is no consideration as to when they will enact, and we have had a history in this country of running before everybody else and enacting the agreement of CARICOM, and years later, others then follow while we suffer," argued Montague.

The opposition senator's comments came last Thursday during a meeting of the joint select committee considering the new Public Procurement Bill.

The bill, among other things, contains provisions for open tender, which would allow entities based in other CARICOM states to bid on contracts in Jamaica and be treated as if they are locals.

Cecile Maragh, senior director, procurement and asset policy in the Ministry of Finance and Planning, told the committee that open bidding allows all interested parties from anywhere to access procurement opportunities. She noted, however, that the bill has built-in safeguards that would limit international firms from tendering on certain contracts.

Maragh said that under a protocol now being negotiated within CARICOM, "we are considering a threshold that would require us to advertise the procurement opportunity to CARICOM nationals".

She said that with open bidding being adopted, Jamaica's policymakers have recognised the need to protect local contractors through the creation of sub-group within the open-bidding concept known as national bidding.

This categorisation requires entities to be registered with the Companies Office of Jamaica and registered with the National Contracts Commission (NCC). It is open to the entire CARICOM.

"If you are a CARICOM national, once you meet those requirements, you will be allowed to participate in the procurement opportunity," said Maragh.

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She further pointed out that the threshold for spending would determine how a procuring entity advertises a procuring activity.

"If the threshold requires you to go to international competitive bidding, it means that somebody from Europe can come, as well as a local firm. There is no need for registration or holding of a tax-compliant certificate unless you are being answered the contract," Maragh said.

The thresholds will also give guidance as to whether procurement activities are to be advertised to CARICOM nationals.

Maragh said that while CARICOM has not yet settled on the matter, Jamaica, in drafting its Procurement Act, had to take into consideration what is happening across the regional and international landscapes as it relates to its foreign relations.

"It will not take away from what currently obtains," Maragh said, while adding that international firms are now registered with the NCC.

However, Frazer-Binns suggested that insufficient protection was being accorded to Jamaican firms under the category of national bidders since it also includes firms in CARICOM. She said the committee should consider creating an addition category called regional bidders.

"I think there ought to be an expressed provision in the definition that gives some form of presence to the Jamaican nations, not just company incorporated in Jamaica, because there is a difference between companies incorporated in Jamaica which makes it a registered Jamaican company but you do not have nationals of Jamaica," said Frazer-Binns.

daraine.luton@gleanerjm.com