Thursday, February 22, 2018

All eyes on regulator Lalchan

NOW that the Board of Procurement Regulation has been appointed, its first order of business should be to set the national standard for transparency and accountability.

Already handicapped by the President's lack of transparency in selecting the procurement regulator, the board itself must not now compound the problem by failing to recognise the need for changing the way public bodies operate.

From its first actions, it must prioritise accountability and transparency as core to the establishment of a new order involving organisations that use public monies.

The board's first order of business must be to publicly set out its agenda for moving from appointment to activation of the Procurement Act.

There is much work to be done, including, as pointed out by Winston Riley, a fellow of the Association of Professional Engineers of T&T, the training of board members to understand the magnitude of the task before them.

Whatever the length of their respective CVs, it would be surprising if members of the Procurement Board understood the full complexity of this path-breaking piece of legislation. If the long-awaited procurement legislation is to deliver on its promise, those charged with its implementation must become expert in its operation and their own role within it. Newly-appointed procurement regulator Moonilal Lalchan has his work cut out for him.

His office is charged with developing the regulations that must be approved by Parliament to give effect to critical aspects of the Act. These include Section 63 (1) which deals with challenge proceedings. Lalchan's office is also responsible for developing an organisational structure with a budget to be approved by Parliament for staffing and fleshing out of its operation. Then, there's the whole transition to be managed in moving from the old order of the Central Tenders Board to the new Procurement regime.

While not simple, a lot of work has already been done with the support of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) that should make it possible to get the procurement regulation office up and running by mid-year. Trinidad and Tobago has a lot riding on the success of this initiative. For years, procurement legislation has been presented as the solution to the endemic corruption involving public monies. While we wish for a smooth transition, it would be na´ve to expect no resistance from the many vested interests in the public and private sectors that have long benefited from the corrupt status quo. All will be threatened by the new purchasing rules for public goods and services.

All eyes are on Lalchan who will have to set the leadership culture by demonstrating expertise in the law and process, the courage to stand against political influence and private intimidation, and a commitment to the highest standards of probity.

The Procurement Act is admittedly a work in progress. In time, the Parliament may wish to revisit the power given solely to the President to appoint the regulator. Even the Office of the President could benefit from checks and balances to limit the risk of individual error. After long years of promises, however, we applaud the fact that the procurement ball is about to get rolling.