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OCG raps public sector disregard for contract rules

BY BALFORD HENRY Senior staff reporter balfordh@jamaicaobserver.com

Monday, December 30, 2013    

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CONTRACTOR General Dirk Harrison says his office is concerned about the "level of appreciation" for applicable procurement and contract award rules, and the pattern of recurrence within the public sector.

"The OCG, in the conduct of its investigations, has identified a recurring pattern in the issues which have been investigated and is, therefore, quite concerned with the level of appreciation for the applicable procurement and contract award rules, procedures, policies, protocols, legislation and regulations which are to be adhered to by the public sector," Harrison told Parliament in his latest report (for 2012), tabled last Tuesday.

He listed key issues as: conflict of interest and unethical conduct; breaches of the Contractor General Act and other applicable laws and/or regulations, such as the Public Bodies Management and Accountability Act, the Financial Administration and Audit Act and the Corruption Prevention Act; breach of duty on the part of accounting and accountable officers; breach of duty on the part of boards of directors; and challenges to the OCG's statutory authority.

"We have continued to observe weaknesses in the compliance levels, probity, accountability and transparency in Government contracting, and have, over the years, made considered recommendations to respective public bodies and public officers in an effort to address the issues and concerns which are the subject of investigations," Harrison said.

"There is, however, heightened concern in the fact that upon the completion of several reports of a similar nature, particularly as it regards issues of irregularity and impropriety in the award and implementation of government contracts, the majority of our recommendations have been recapitulated, but to no avail," he stated.

"The OCG is of the considered position that public officers and officials must commence acting in a manner and form that promotes due care, transparency and integrity, and for all public officers/officials to be held accountable for such actions, which are ultra vires and in breach of public sector policies, rules, procedures and all other applicable legislations which govern public procurement and contracting," he added.

According to Harrison, the OCG "stands firm" in its recurring recommendation to be given the power and the authority to halt a procurement and/or contract award matter which exhibits signs of irregularity, impropriety, corruption and/or certain questionable occurrences, which it considers to be administered in a manner harmful to the interests of the people and Jamaican taxpayers.

He listed two key recommendations which have been made by the OCG during the period under review (2012) as follows:

(1) That in instances where a public body has identified a breach of the procurement procedures, the responsible agency seek to remedy the breach in an expeditious and effective manner, as opposed to continuing the implementation of the project in violation of the applicable Government of Jamaica (GOJ) Public Sector Procurement Procedures, the regulations and/or other governing laws; and

(2) That the procurement committees of public bodies be insulated from the direction and influence of management and/or the boards of public bodies, as it regards the objective and impartial discharge of responsibilities which are prescribed by the GOJ Procurement Guidelines.

He said that the OCG is also recommending that the Ministry of Finance, in drafting Government's Procurement Guidelines, and attendant circulars, consider and implement punitive and administrative sanctions against any public officer and/or official who interferes with, and/or attempts to instruct an evaluation and/or procurement committee to act in a manner which would bring the procurement process into disrepute.

Harrison said that heads of ministries, departments and agencies, who are aware that a public officer is in a conflict of interest situation should take the necessary action, in accordance with applicable administrative procedures, to remove such an officer from the conflicted situation.

"Such action will ensure legitimacy and good governance in the administration and management of the GOJ's procurement process and the GOJ's affairs," he explained.

He said that, in instances where a member of the public body board, or any other public official/officer finds himself/herself in a probable conflict of interest scenario, it is recommended that the individual not only makes the necessary and principled disclosures, with the intent to remove himself/herself from the conflict of interest situation, but also withdraws himself/herself entirely from the process.

"And, in order to guard against any perceived shortcomings in the practice of making disclosures of interest, the OCG is hereby recommending that public officers/officials make such declarations in writing, and that same form a part of the record for the procurement under consideration," he noted.

Harrison stated that, in accordance with the Public Bodies Management and Accountability and the Financial Administration and Audit acts, the Cabinet, accounting and accountable officers and members of the board of directors of public bodies should, at all times, ensure that the principles of good corporate governance are adhered to and promoted within the public sector.

In this regard, he said that the OCG is of the opinion that within respective organisations of the public sector, there should be adequate checks and balances mechanisms, designed to promote transparency, integrity and probity in the management and administration of the affairs of the State.

He encouraged accounting and accountable officers to exercise "the greatest level of care and diligence in their approval of the award of GOJ contracts", and in the certification of representations which are made to the OCG and to other statutory authorities.

He said that all appointees of boards of directors of any public body should be made fully aware of their responsibilities and obligations under the provisions of the Public Bodies Management and Accountability Act, the recently issued Corporate Governance Framework for Public Bodies and all other applicable legislations.

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