Chasing procurement perfection

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HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW (April 2019) warned that perfectionism is a double-edged sword that can either motivate you to deliver high-quality work or cause you much anxiety and slow you down.

Are we witnessing this play out with the many iterations of the procurement legislation saga, or is it something else? Have we moved unwisely and sadly to entangle the Judiciary to get a ‘perfect’ solution? In March 2014, Mr Greg Christie, former Jamaica contractor-general (the equivalent of our Procurement Regulator), gave an important speech to the local Transparency International (TI) chapter that ought to be reprinted to benefit our nation’s discourse. He quoted Mr Jim Young Kim, then-president of the World Bank, ‘Let us not mince words. In the developing world, corruption is Public Enemy #1’. He named Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, and Guyana as possessing systemic corruption. Christie presciently identified, ‘In monetary terms, the illicit manipulation of the award of government contracts, and licences, as well as the divestment of publicly-owned assets, have long been considered to be possibly the largest opportunity that exists for corruption in any country.’ TI estimated the cost of corruption in public contracting to be ten to 25 per cent and, in the worst cases, as much as 50 per cent of the total contract cost.

Unknown to all in the audience, that reality was lurking. By April 2022, Justice Rahim ruled that there was an attempt to rob us, the citizens, of almost TT$873 million! Justice Aboud’s 2021 observation is equally chilling in a case involving $200 million. As Mr Christie observed, ‘it simply means that there will be significantly less public funds available to build schools and hospitals, to fight crime, and to provide for the much needed public infrastructure and services, such as housing, roads, water and electricity, which… are today at sub-standard levels’.

In May 2019, Mr Imbert noted the need to raise $900 million to complete 27 schools. ( Guardian, May 24, 2019). Yet in January 2019, he blasted the Express for an article and an Editorial on the draft procurement regulations. He promised fervently ‘this publicly announced timeline of the first quarter of 2019 for implementation of the act is still on track’! Since then, we have been seeing a zig-zagging and unproductive inter-party squabbling.

Do we have the political will to do what is proper and necessary? It appears neither political party is ready to do right by the citizens. WASA could demote their acting CEO for not following the board’s instructions, but our regulator’s year-long work with State institutions could perish. Why?

Jamaica’s Justice Batt’s 2013 ruling in the Paymaster v Postal Corporation case noted, ‘Exclusions are listed in Regulation 4, and in Regulation 5, it is stated that ‘these Regulations do not apply to the tendering and other procurement activities in relation to contracts that are below the approval threshold lawfully prescribed from time to time including special thresholds prescribed for specific entities.’

How will we benefit from implementation? The World Bank speaks to a 400-per cent governance dividend or a four-fold increase in per-capita income. Private sector businesses will grow by as much as three per cent annually. The cost of corruption is a 20 per cent regressive tax. Let us listen to Greg Christie if we do not wish to listen to Afra Raymond. Let Moonilal Lalchan get cracking! We need to act.

Noble Philip