Daraine Luton, Senior Staff Reporter
More concerns over procurement rules
Calls for changes to the procurement rules for government transactions have increased as Jamaica stumbles in its attempt to take advantage of developments in critical sectors such as energy.
"I am personally convinced that the rules and the fear of just being off the line .... have driven inaction for the simplest thing," adviser to the prime minister and head of the liquefied natural gas (LNG) steering committee Dr Carlton Davis told a Gleaner Editors' Forum last week.
"If it takes high policy to say this is what we have to do for the national interest, say it to the country and go to the Parliament. We have to recognise that this is a business world, this is not a world in which people have time to sit down and solve a thing." Davis asserted.
Like Davis, former chairman of the LNG steering committee and president of the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica Christopher Zacca is convinced Jamaica will not be able to make significant advancement unless the procurement rules are revamped.
He pointed to the decision by the LNG team not to accept a bid for the supply of gas from the international well-established firm Marabuni because the bid arrived a few minutes after the 5 p.m. closing time.
"For them to come in a few minutes late and because of the procurement rules (the bid is not accepted) ... I think that is unacceptable," said Zacca, as he also addressed the Editors' Forum.
The Office of the Contractor General (OCG), now led by Greg Christie, is tasked with policing the procurement rules and Christie has faced much criticism for some of his actions.
But Zacca says the problem is not with the OCG but the procurement guidelines.
"Greg Christie is only enforcing the rules that have been given to him by the Parliament of Jamaica," said Zacca.
Davis readily agrees. "The rules have been carried out as they have been laid out, and they have been carried out with enthusiasm."
He argued that the energy sector requires special treatment and should be subject to different rules as it relates to procurement.
Davis noted that as part of Jamaica's push to introduce LNG, one of the things that the Government speculated on is whether it should have a preferred bidder for the infrastructure or negotiate with the two entities which had submitted technically sound bids.
"We sought legal advice and we were told to play the ball straight, take no risk because that's our procurement rule."
According to Davis, Jamaica needs to move now on energy or miss opportunities, which could set the country back for many years.
"This energy thing is of such moment that it cannot be a slave so completely to methodology and rules that you get straight As for methodology and rules and straight Bs for effectiveness and economics," said Davis.
Davis and Zacca's call for changes to the procurement guidelines has the full support of Minister of Transport, Works and Housing Dr Omar Davies.
"The whole procurement process, it is lengthy, and does not necessarily guarantee the equity and the transparency," Davies told The Sunday Gleaner.
That came as no surprise because Davies is the Government's point man in a dispute with the OCG over three projects and the establishment of an independent oversight panel (IOP) to monitor them.
heart of a dispute
The procurement guidelines are at the heart of a dispute involving Minister of Transport, Works and Housing Dr Omar Davies and the OCG.
In April, Davies announced in Parliament that the Cabinet had established the IOP to advise it on the implementation of three megaprojects, two of which had not received the blessing of Christie.
At that time, Davies said the administration, "will not allow the OCG to be a stumbling block in the engagement of private entities as the State moves to take advantage of investment opportunities".
Christie immediately responded, arguing that the establishment of the IOP was an attempt to usurp the OCG.
"The OCG takes strong offence and exception to any suggestion that is made that by virtue of the discharge of its lawful mandates, under the Contractor General Act, as is prescribed by the Parliament of Jamaica, and which it is sworn to do, that it is impeding economic growth and development in Jamaica," said Christie.
The projects are the north-south Highway 2000 link, Gordon Cay container transhipment hub, and the Fort Augusta container terminal.
According to Davies, were it not for the intervention of the OCG last year, the Chinese investors would have long advanced work on the north-south link of Highway 2000.
"I have just reviewed the files which reported on former Minister Audley Shaw's visit to Beijing, and a year ago, they were at a stage where had we proceeded, the Mount Rosser bypass would now be complete," Davies said last month.
That did not phase Christie, who has consistently argued that the OCG was set up to ensure that government contracts and licences are void of irregularity, impropriety and corruption.
"The OCG is of the view that economic development must be pursued in a sustainable and responsible manner, and within an appropriate system of institutionalised and independent checks and balances which will ensure that the Jamaican taxpayer can be guaranteed value for money and that all government commercial transactions will withstand the highest levels of scrutiny and probity."
The parties are now before the courts for a determination on whether the OCG can dictate members of the IOP to report to it.