— confirmation of candidates for Procurement Commission delayed
— Coalition-appointed Chairman cites ‘Opposition emergency’
THE cancellation of Monday’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) meeting has further delayed finalisation of the proposed candidates for the long overdue Public Procurement Commission (PPC). In an invited comment, Minister of Parliamentary Affairs and Governance, Gail Teixeira, said that everything was in place for the meeting to be hosted at 10:00hrs as is customary; however, the government members of the PAC were contacted by Parliament Office and informed of the cancellation, just half an hour before meeting time.
Teixeira said that she was not officially contacted by the Opposition Chairman of the PAC, Jermaine Figueira, but learnt through the grapevine that “there was some emergency meeting for the Opposition.”
When contacted, Figueira confirmed that he was forced to call for a cancellation, owing to an internal party emergency. “Members of the Opposition had an emergency,” the A Partnership for National Unity + Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC) Member of Parliament said.
There have been claims that the “Opposition emergency” pertained to internal disagreements on the Opposition nominees for the Public Procurement Commission. Out of 25 names, the government and the parliamentary opposition had agreed on the five suitable candidates to constitute the important commission. The government’s nominees were Attorney-at-Law Pauline Chase, Financial Analyst Joel Bhagwandin, and Rajnarine Singh, while the Opposition green-lighted Economist Rawle Lucas, and Berkeley Wickham, former Chairman of the National Procurement and Tender Administration Board (NPTAB).
Reports are that Leader of the Opposition Joseph Harmon and Leader of the People’s National Congress/Reform, Aubrey Norton, are not in agreement as to who the Opposition nominees of the procurement commission should be. It should be noted that while Harmon is the constitutional office holder, Norton represents the longstanding PNC, which is the largest party in the APNU+AFC Coalition.
Asked to comment on alleged disagreements, PAC Chairman Figueira said, “I don’t know where the individuals are getting their information from; they are free to express their own opinion.” Pressed further for answers, Figueira responded, “I am saying that we had an emergency meeting and [next] Monday those revelations concerning the PPC will be put.”
Minister Teixeira has expressed disappointment with the cancellation, given the importance of the commission, and the fact that the Opposition PAC members seemed quite passionate for its early functioning. The PAC even formed a sub-committee to expedite the process to finalise the members of the commission; this comprised Minister Teixeira, who acted on behalf of President Dr Irfaan Ali, and Chairman Figueira, who acted on behalf of the parliamentary Opposition.
“We thought that having met on Wednesday at the sub-committee, and having what we thought was a conclusion with the two sides presenting their names, that today would have been a slam-dunk, but it appears as if they have other issues going on internally,” Teixeira said. She added, “I guess we’ll meet next Monday; I assume.”
The current selection formula for the PPC is in keeping with the standard as set out in 2016, when the first PPC was sworn in by then President David Granger.
Previously, Teixeira said that even though the names were agreed by bought sides, it was “distasteful” for them to have seen them being prematurely released to the press by Figueira. Teixeira said that because of the sensitive nature of the role of the PPC, it was agreed that the names would remain confidential until they are officially presented to the PAC.
She indicated that because the approval of the PPC commissioners requires a two-thirds majority of the National Assembly, it was necessary for the matter to be treated with sensitivity, and in accordance with proper protocols. “This is a matter that requires two-thirds of the majority of votes in Parliament, not by those who are present, but two-thirds of the elected Members of Parliament which is about 40-something people,” the Parliamentary Affairs Minister explained.
Teixeira said too that she was also displeased to see that even with the names being announced, Figueira was also quoted by the local press as saying that the candidates could change, depending on feedback from the PAC.
“This is a new development he seems to be casting a shadow on,” Teixeira lamented previously.
Guyana has been without a PPC since October 2019, when the previous commission expired. That Commission had served for a period of three years, with Carol Corbin serving as chairperson, while former People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Labour Minister Dr Nanda K. Gopaul served as her deputy. The other commissioners were Civil Engineer Emily Dodson; Ivor Burnette English and Sukrishnalall Pasha, who is currently the Finance Secretary at the Ministry of Finance.
Even though the previous PPC was sworn in in 2016, it was not functioning in 2017. At the time, Cabinet Secretary and Minister of State Joseph Harmon had said that the non-functioning of the PPC was largely due to the lack of staff.
The commission is a critical body which is constitutionally responsible for oversight of the public procurement of all goods and services, along with the monitoring of infrastructural works to ensure that they conform to the relevant laws and guidelines.
As it is, stakeholders are eagerly waiting to see whether the names of the new PPC commissioners will be finalised come Monday.