Former Procurement Officer responds to Public Procurement in the Bahamas –US State Department 2021 Investments Climate Statements

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FERGUSON: The political system is plagued by reports of corruption, including allegations of widespread patronage, the routine directing of contracts to political supporters, and favorable treatment for wealthy or politically connected individuals.

By Daniel S. Ferguson

It was really not my intention to write another article before September but so much has been happening locally in Public Procurement lately, I believe that I am duty bound to respond to these issues.

On July 21 2021 the United States State Department released its 2021 Investments Climate Statements on the Bahamas. With regards to procurement in the Bahamas the report states, Negative aspects include a lack of transparency in government procurement, labor shortages in certain sectors, high labor costs, a bureaucratic and inefficient investment approvals process, time consuming resolution of legal disputes, internet connectivity issues, and high energy costs.

It stated further that, “The Bahamian government does not have modern procurement legislation and companies have complained the tender process for public contracts is not consistent, and that it is difficult to obtain information on the status of bids. In response, the current government passed a Public Procurement Bill and launched an e-procurement and suppliers registry system to increase levels of accountability and transparency. The Public Procurement Bill was passed in March 2021, but has not yet been fully enacted.”

The political system is plagued by reports of corruption, including allegations of widespread patronage, the routine directing of contracts to political supporters, and favorable treatment for wealthy or politically connected individuals.

On June 17 2017 While addressing the Opening Session of the National Conclave of Chambers of Commerce in The Bahamas, at Baha Mar Resort, Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis said “Corruption has cost The Bahamas untold, hundreds of millions of dollars or more over the decades,” “Under the previous Administration, there were constant complaints about having to see certain people in order to get a proposal reviewed or approved. My Administration is committed to transparency, openness and accountability.”

I hate to be the one to say that sometimes annoying phrase, ”I told you so”., but in my first two articles I questioned the government’s reason for delaying the enactment of the Public Procurement Bill as it was totally unnecessary and I suspected that it was to politically motivate the awards of contracts for its supporters before an election.

On Monday June 21, 2021 while on the floor of the House of Assembly the Prime Minister of the Bahamas, Dr. Hubert Minnis attacked me personally referring to me as an angry man and explained the reason for the Bill’s delay. ”The Ministry of Finance is busy putting in place procedures, rules and training to ensure that the September timeline is met comfortably”, he said. If that was the case, as a procurement specialist I would have supported the delay.

Is the State Department analysis of the public procurement system of the Bahamas correct, or are they just angry men and women as well? First fact of the report is that the Bahamas does not have modern procurement legislation because the Public Procurement Bill has not been enacted in other words it is not law.

With regards to US companies’ complaints that the tender process for public contracts is not consistent, and that it is difficult to obtain information on the status of bids. Again they have a valid complaint. The e-Procurement Supplier Registry was to eliminate such issues because registration is free for all companies to have access to view bid opportunities and to take part if they are eligible to do so.

However as I have said on numerous occasions the government’s mandate for all Ministries and agencies to place all procurement opportunities on the ePSR is not being adhered to, they are not uploading or advertising their bids and most importantly the Tender Award portal which is to be used to show all contract awards, has been utilized by only one agency, the Department of Environmental Health.

I was also not surprised when I read the plenty to nothing response to the Investment Climate Report by the Ministry of Finance published in the Nassau Guardian on Friday August 6. They failed to address a number of issues such as the flagrant abuse of the selective bidding process presently being engaged by the larger Ministries such as the Department of Public Works, the Department of Education, what this means is that they are actually sending bids to a chosen few and the brazen act of total disregard of the competitive tender process by the Ministry of Financial Services, Trade Industry and Immigration which recently made a direct award to a Caterer of a three hundred thousand dollar contract to provide meals for the Detainees at the Department of Immigration Detention Centre.

The mismanagement of the Ministry Finance’s Public Financial Management Reform Unit which is suffering from the political syndrome of family friends and lovers and finally, I know I won’t be allowed the space to write about the KanOo and the private management deal of the Antiquities Monuments and Museums Corporation, I am told its all one company.

One does not have to wait for September to address these issues as the activities described above are contravening the existing tender policy and circumventing best procurement practices.

The US State Department is simply saying that a blind man can see these abuses. Further the Ministry of Finance could not outline one imitative they had undertaken to support the enactment of the Act scheduled for September 1. In fact the Ministry is still lacking of an experienced and qualified procurement officer to assist with its capacity building efforts. This scenario reminds me of Billy Preston’s song: “Will It Go Round in Circles.”

In his debut address on July 5, 2017, at a Caricom meeting held in St Georges, Grenada during the 39th regular meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government of the Caribbean Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis said, “Corruption remains a formidable challenge to small and developing countries such as my own and we are determined to brutally confront this challenge. In this regard, my government has implemented a policy of zero tolerance for corruption.“

Upon taking the oath of office, all ministers have been told that they would be immediately dismissed if they are found out to be soliciting or accepting payments. “We will implement strong anti-corruption laws and measures.”

Had the government heeded the warning and enacted the Public Procurement Bill immediately, the use of the e-Procurement Supplier Registry would have been legislated five months ago which would have enhanced transparency in the bidding process. The early appointment of a Public Procurement Board and Tribunal would have had a significant impact as well and there would have been no doubt in anyone’s mind that the government was serious about combating corruption. Be that as it may this administration must now talk less about transparency but rather strive to be transparent.

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Mr. Daniel Ferguson, MCIPS, retired Chief Petty Officer, RBDF, Lead Investigator 2004 Lorequin Commission of Inquiry, a former Procurement Officer of the Ministry Health and Ministry of Finance and former Component Coordinator for the IDB sponsored Public Financial Management Reform Project, in particular the Public Procurement Reform. He led the drafting team for the development of the Public Procurement Bill 2021, Public Procurement Regulations assisted with the creation of the University of the Bahamas professional procurement officers training framework and managed the development of the e-Procurement Supplier Registry. He is a Chartered Member of the Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply with over 25 years of experience in Public Procurement He was the Caribbean’s representative to the International Network of Public Procurement Officers for the years 2019-2021. A network supported by both the Organization of American States, Caribbean Development Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank.

CLICK HERE TO REVIEW REPORT| https://www.state.gov/reports/2021-investment-climate-statements/bahamas/