JIS News

The government is given renewed impetus to the process of staunching the bleeding of billions of dollars from the public purse, achieving greater transparency, while ensuring the speedy processing of government contracts. This process is being undertaken through the promulgation and implementation of the Revised Handbook of Public Sector Procurement Procedures and Standard Bidding Documents, December 2008, during the 2009/10 financial year.
As a first step, Permanent Secretaries, the de jure accounting officers of each ministry were exposed to a sensitization workshop on the new provisions at the Heroes’ Circle Office of the Ministry of Finance and the Public Service in Kingston on Wednesday, March 11.
Addressing the workshop, Minister of Finance and the Public Service, Hon. Audley Shaw instructed the Permanent Secretaries to take immediate steps to identify obstacles to the speedy processing of the contract award process, while strictly adhering to the Government’s contract award procedures.
“The Government is unreservedly committed to the transparent award of contracts but we believe that in order to achieve this, the speedy processing of contracts does not have to be sacrificed. The more expeditious processing of contracts will result in faster implementation of the government’s Public Sector Investment Programme, which is urgently needed in the process of assisting to stimulate the economy in these challenging times.” Minister Shaw said.
The Minister emphasized that in order to achieve the desired levels of efficiency, probity and transparency, “Permanent Secretaries must move with dispatch to audit their internal systems in order to identify roadblocks in the process and clear them, implement the thorough training of all public officers who are engaged in the processing of contracts, while ensuring that procurement and support staff members are fully aware of the details of the recently amended procurement policy, regulations, and procedures”.
Mr. Shaw also called on the public sector managers to fully engage private sector contractors in dialogue and public education in order to ensure that they too are fully aware of and compliant with the new requirements.
In her charge to the participants, Financial Secretary, Mrs. Sharon Crooks said the as Accounting Officers, Permanent Secretaries must be thoroughly aware of the new procurement procedures and their role to, “Bring back faith trust and confidence in procurement process and the award of public contracts. Too often we receive reports of breaches of procedures and as we come under increasing scrutiny, we must ensure that the public gets value for money and that procedures are strictly followed”.
The Financial Secretary emphasized that breaches of procedures will attract serious sanctions and will serve to keep public officers in line. “The decision to engage the Permanent Secretaries as a first step in the sensitization process is a deliberate policy decision. However, all Chief Executive Officers and Directors in the public service must be made aware and become familiar with the procedures and internal checks and balances to avoid breaches”.
The Ministry of Finance and the Cabinet must ensure that the country’s government procurement process is efficient with rules that are easy to comprehend and practical to comply with. If this is not done, the rules will be broken, ignored or circumvented.
In the recent past, the Ministry of Finance and the Public Service has undertaken a number of initiatives aimed at: improving transparency and efficiency of the procurement system; as well as to hold the persons involved in procurement more accountable for the outcomes of the process.
In December 2008, the Revised Handbook of Public Sector Procurement Procedures and Standard Bidding Documents were issued. This Handbook will function more as a comprehensive ‘operational’ manual providing detailed information to guide procurement staff. New subjects covered in the revised Handbook include: fraud and corruption; code of ethics; conflict of interest and exclusions. Additionally, Procurement Regulations were also gazetted under the Contractor General Act and are aimed at enforcing compliance by holding persons who deliberately commit breaches, accountable for their actions while at the same time improving transparency. The Regulations cover the entire procurement process from the planning stage through to the discharge of the obligations under the contract and also give legal weight to the procedures set out in the Handbook.
Another important feature of the Regulations is the institution of a Procurement Appeals Board (PAB). The Procurement Appeals Board comprises three members – the Financial Secretary or his/her representative; a second member nominated by the Jamaica Bar Association; and a third nominee from the Private Business Sector nominated by the Private Sector Organization of Jamaica.
Under the new Regulations, an aggrieved bidder is afforded the opportunity to appeal a decision of the NCC in respect of a complaint. This is a significant improvement as it affords an opportunity for review by an independent body not previously involved in the procurement process and outside of the courts.
The strengthening and enforcement of penalties and other sanctions are under review.

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