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Beyond Greg Christie's motley legacy - Next contractor general must be strategic

Published:Sunday | December 9, 2012 | 12:00 AM
Former contractor general, Greg Christie.
Robert Wynter
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Robert Wynter, Contributor

Transparency International (TI) has published its 2012 Corruption Perception Index (CPI) report days after Greg Christie demitted office as contractor general. The CPI is an annual ranking of countries "by their perceived levels of corruption, as determined by expert assessments and opinion surveys". The CPI generally defines corruption as "the misuse of public power for private benefit".

The 2012 report indicates that Jamaica ranks 83rd out of 174 countries, with a score of 3.8. Denmark, Finland and New Zealand each scored 9.0, being the least corrupt, while Afghanistan, North Korea and Somalia each scored 0.8, being the most corrupt.

Although Jamaica's 2012 score shows an improvement over 2011 (3.3), celebrations must be tempered, as we have not recovered ground lost since 2002 (4.0), and are exactly where we were in 2003.

Were Mr Christie to be measured for the extent to which he administered the Contractor General Act, he would have scored well. However, when measured for reducing corruption (as measured by the CPI), he would be considered as having done poorly.

Mr Christie has lamented the poor support he has had from successive administrations, suggesting that if his office had greater powers, his fight against corruption would have borne fruit. In this regard, he has received support from elements of civil society asking for the Contractor General Act to be strengthened and to have a broad-based selection panel for the next candidate.

KEEP ROLES SEPARATE

During Mr Christie's tenure, he had disagreements with the director of public prosecutions (DPP), Paula Llewellyn, and more recently, with the minister of transport, works and housing, Dr Omar Davies. In the case of the DPP, he disagreed with her rulings on matters referred by him, giving me the impression that had he the powers of prosecution, such matters may have had different outcomes.

Therefore, any thought of granting the contractor general the power of prosecution must be given serious thought, as there needs to be arms-length distance between the investigator and the prosecutor. The dispute with the transport minister was on the decision to use the sole-source method to engage China Harbour Engineering Company to build, own and operate the north-south highway.

According to Minister Davies, the then contractor general had a personal problem with Government responding to unsolicited proposals, notwithstanding that unsolicited proposals are allowed under the Government of Jamaica's procurement guidelines. Mr Christie's disagreement with this concept indicates his non-appreciation of intellectual capital and, as Minister Davies suggests, baffles the mind that a state official wants to exert a personal agenda, which goes counter to government policy.

The Office of the Contractor General (OCG) does not make the laws; it simply administers them. Creating and modifying laws is, essentially, the purview of our parliamentarians. The real purpose of the OCG, and its sister organisation, the National Contracts Commission, ought to be to maximise value in the procurement of goods and services by Government.

Our procurement laws assume that everyone is corrupt; and, therefore, place layer upon layer of bureaucracy on the procurement of goods and services by the Government. Mr Christie's zeal to monitor according to the letter of the law drove fear into the hearts of public-sector officials, many of whom were trying to legitimately maximise value. The result was that most simply complied, while others found creative ways to beat the system.

SYSTEMIC FLAWS

It is a known fact that many procuring entities write requests for proposal (RFPs) in a manner that ensures a desired service provider will be chosen. It is also a well-known fact that many procuring entities decide who they wish to engage, then send RFPs to other organisations only to make up numbers, while predetermining the outcome of the procurement process. In many of these cases, however, the best deal is received by the procuring entity, despite having to bypass the normal procedure to do so.

In certain instances, the procurement guidelines require that a procurement committee be established within each public-sector entity to analyse proposals for the purpose of awarding a contract. The department or individual that requires the service of an external provider is restricted from being part of the procurement committee, the rationale being that the department or individual requiring the service cannot be objective.

Furthermore, the members of the procurement committee are allowed to use only the contents of the proposal to make a judgement, as any contact with the proposers is strictly forbidden. This is tantamount to limiting a recruitment process to job letters and resumes. We go to great lengths to interview candidates for employment and extract as much information as we can to make an informed decision. Yet we limit ourselves to what is written in proposals to make a similar decision on a service provider.

STRATEGIC APPROACH

I disagree with civil-society groups that we need a different method to select the contractor general. I also disagree that we necessarily need to strengthen the powers of the OCG. What is needed is a strategic approach to the job.

First and foremost, the next candidate must have a focus to reduce corruption, rather than simply to administer the Contractor General Act. This immediately establishes a clear vision and purpose for the OCG, while the annual CPI scores will establish a clear accountability for performance.

With a baseline of 3.8, the new contractor general should establish a desired CPI (at least 6.0) at the end of his/her seven-year term and develop a strategic plan to deliver on that figure. Annual reports to Parliament must focus on the extent of improvement of the CPI and what will be done to get back on track were we to stray from our performance trajectory.

THE WAY FORWARD

The new contractor general must give as much focus to maximising value in the execution of contracts as he/she gives to reducing corruption. I know of no system where procuring entities provide feedback to the OCG on the value of contracts awarded. In the case of construction contracts, an engineer's certificate reflects value. In the case of the provision of tangible goods, the value is easily determined.

Where the problem lies is with the provision of services, particularly consulting services. Many procuring entities complain that while the required activities under an RFP were undertaken by the service provider, the results were disappointing.

The new contractor general needs to look at how RFPs for these service contracts are linked to value and how the value can be measured post implementation. For example, rather than asking for proposals to conduct a management audit of the National Water Commission's distribution system, proposals should be requested to develop and implement a plan to reduce the NWC's losses from 68 per cent to 45 per cent over the next three years!

Greg Christie, like other contractors general before him, has failed to significantly impact Jamaica's perception of corruption index during his tenure. This suggests that we take a fundamental rethink on the purpose and approach by the new contractor general.

This new strategic approach must focus more on reducing corruption and maximising value than simply asking for compliance in completing forms and following processes.

The new contractor general must be given clear performance targets regarding corruption and value, then must be held accountable for the achievement of those targets.

Robert Wynter is managing director of Strategic Alignment Limited, which facilitates organisational transformation and leadership development. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and rob.wyn@hotmail.com.