24 June 2021
By DANIEL FERGUSON
It was not my intention to write another article until the end of September, as I wanted to give the government the benefit of the doubt regarding its self-imposed September 1, 2021, timeline for when the Public Procurement Act will take effect. However, on Monday, the prime minister during his closing remarks in the budget debate referred to me publicly by warning that “if you push me enough” the details of my personal files when I was employed at the Royal Bahamas Defence Force (RBDF) and the Ministry of Health will be revealed.
I was amused by this, and want to know what records he is referring to. He also alluded to me being “an angry man”, and that I breached confidentiality clauses related to my previous government employment. It is not my intention to answer the prime minister in this regard because I have provided this newspaper, and other media houses, with copies of my Military Discharge Certificate, which reflects my honourable discharge from the RBDF along with a “very good” character reference. I also received a “letter of appreciation” from the US Coastguard, and was subsequently appointed as chief supplies officer to the Ministry of Health.
The public should ask the prime minister why, if my files are so damaging, how I was appointed as lead investigator for the Lorequin Commission of Inquiry in 2004. And why was I employed in your ministry as a procurement officer responsible for public procurement reform for four years, while also being named as the Caribbean’s representative to the Organisation of American States (OAS) body – known as the Inter-American Network of Government Procurement Officers – for the years 2019 to 2021?
I would agree, though, that I am an angry man – but only because the government will take the advice of others on procurement matters while ignoring the professional specialists. I am angry because, as a chartered procurement specialist, I am appalled by the amount of government contracts that remain politically motivated, and are neither tendered nor publicly advertised. Yes, the previous government did the same, but has this government proven to be any different?
With regards to the prime minister’s allegations of breach of confidentiality, I wish to draw the public’s attention to section 47 of the Freedom of Information Act 2017, which deals with whistle-blowers.
This says: (1) No person may be subject to any legal, administrative or employment related sanction, regardless of any breach of a legal or employment- related obligation, for releasing information on wrongdoing, or that which would disclose a serious threat to health, safety or the environment, as long as he acted in good faith and in the reasonable belief that the information was substantially true and disclosed evidence of wrongdoing or a serious threat to health, safety and the environment.
(2) For the purpose of subsection (1), “wrongdoing” includes but it is not limited to:
(a) The commission of a criminal offence
(b) Failure to comply with a legal obligation
(c) Miscarriage of justice
(d) Corruption, dishonesty or serious maladministration
Was it not this administration that brought this Act into force, and most recently appointed the Commissioners?
On two occasions during my employment with the Ministry of Finance, I had the opportunity to appear before the United Nations Convention on Corruption to apprise them of the public procurement reform effort that I led for the past four years. The United Nations (UN) Convention against Corruption is the only legally-binding universal anti-corruption instrument of which The Bahamas is a party. The Government of The Bahamas should be aware that organisations such as these, including the Inter-American Development Bank, the World Bank and the Caribbean Development Bank, all of whom are stakeholders in our economic development, are observing their actions, especially when it threatens its citizens for speaking truth.
What I find to be so ironic is that during the debate on Monday, Glenys Hanna Martin, MP for Englerston, in referring to my article stated that the writer was simply saying that since the Public Procurement Act was to be delayed until September this year, the government has a moral obligation, under best practices, to ensure that their mandated policy is for all procurement to be carried out through the e-procurement supplier registry is. So, why the outburst? Is it that the government is not serious about transparency?
Desmond Bannister, deputy prime minister and minister of works, eloquently made his contribution to the budget debate last Thursday by listing the many projects his ministry had completed. He talked about parks being redeveloped, road paving and the renovations of certain buildings. He also rose to his feet during the prime minister’s contribution on Monday, June 21, and advised that the e-procurement supplier registry was being used. He was correct, but what he did not say was how many of the 763 registered construction companies on the e-procurement system had an opportunity to bid on all of those projects he mentioned through the e-procurement supplier registry.
An analysis of the usage of the e-procurement supplier registry by ministries and agencies was conducted, and it was discovered that – from April 2020 to February 2021 – the Department of Public Works created 15 restricted/selective bid notices on the system during which time they selected the companies who were to tender rather than having an open, competitive bidding process. They did create 22 other notices that were competitive, an extremely small amount for a department that initially had a capital works budget of $151m for the year 2020-2021. There are 2,200 registered companies on the e-procurement supplier registry, all waiting for business opportunities. Why is transparency in public procurement being delayed? Who is the “operational leadership” in the Ministry of Finance that would have given advice to push back the Procurement Act coming into effect to September 2021? They are unlikely to have public procurement experience or qualifications. If they had, they would have known better. I previously indicated that both the international consultant and the local procurement officer were no longer employed by the Ministry of Finance.
The international consultant who was employed by the government’s Public Financial Management Reform Project stated in his final report: “The resistance to the public procurement reform from top-level political positions and senior-level management officials in government, as well as from members of Parliament, has also obstructed progress regarding the new public procurement legislation’s development and implementation of new procurement tools.” This statement is powerful, and raises questions as to whether reform is being delayed to preserve the status quo and the issuance of politically motivated contracts, worth tens of millions of dollars, to supporters of whichever party is in power. I will leave it there.
NB: Daniel Ferguson, a retired chief petty officer with the Royal Bahamas Defence Force (RBDF), is a former procurement officer in the Ministry Health and Ministry of Finance, and former component co-ordinator for the Inter-American Development Bank (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, and public procurement regulations. He is a chartered member of the Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply, with over 25 years of experience in public procurement.