Rethink public procurement
THE EDITOR, Sir:
I READ with great interest an article in The Sunday Gleaner dated April 29, by opposition spokesman on industry and commerce, Dr Christopher Tufton, and felt compelled to add my commentary to the discussion surrounding public procurement practice in Jamaica.
Dr Tufton articulated that the Office of the Contractor General (OCG), in its pursuit of good governance over the procurement of goods, services and works of public enterprises, seems to have its job cut out in ensuring that probity and accountability are upheld. I, too, share the same sentiments of the OCG mandate - and he (Greg Christie) is doing a tremendous job in ensuring value for public money! However, my point of focus through this medium is not the OCG's approach that has won the hearts of many Jamaicans, but how we should approach procurement procedures on a common ground and remove the adversarial approach.
Dr Tufton was quite correct when he said that any traveller with observant eyes, which looks at North America, will see the Obama administration's approach to job stimulation through infrastructure development - other developed countries are following in quick pursuit. My disappointment, however, is the differences in the procurement philosophy in Jamaica in comparison to North America (and any First-World country).
Hinged on bureaucracy
In many developing countries, public procurement practices are hinged on placing burdensome layers of bureaucracy as a form of checks and balances, which in many instances stall the progress of development and, indeed, limit capturing opportunities which only come fleetingly. Instead, developed countries seek to develop systems which encourage development(s) and investments through processes with checks and balances along the way. Failure to follow the system means the perpetrator is put before the law of the land.
A good case of slow responsiveness to opportunity is the procurement exercise which was conducted two years ago for the proposed Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) project with Exmar, being most responsive (to my understanding) to the criteria of the original Request for Proposal.
Bid thrown out
For whatever reason, then, the bid was thrown out and a new document developed, retendered and from all indications it appears that the initial bidder (Exmar) stands a very good chance of being selected - again! What I have learnt from this process is inefficiency. We have sunk a cost of several millions United States dollars of public fund, which, easily, could have been used in many ailing ministries like education. We have missed out on the opportunity cost with the two-year time lapse.
In short, if we want to be progressive in our journey and reach first-rate country status, we must act quickly and collectively in finding consensus on ways of ensuring that the largest client in the country, the government, can use this position to their advantage. The approach by Dr Omar Davies in setting up the monitoring committee to oversee the implementation of three high-profile infrastructure projects may be seen as a 'dis' to the OCG in some quarters, however, if properly placed into context, it should be seen as an opportunity for reshaping our public processes which will not disrupt the progress of implementation, but rather encourage swift actions.
Finally, I, like many others, have often felt that Jamaica is missing out on many opportunities given our mechanistic approach to project procurement and implementation. It is now a good time for the drafters of our legislation to review the philosophy behind the drafting of our policy documents.
Devon R. Smith