Ministry official explains police procurement inefficiencies

BY ALPHEA SAUNDERS
Senior staff reporter
saundersa@jamaicaobserver.com

Wednesday, November 06, 2019

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Permanent secretary in the Ministry of National Security Diane McIntosh and members of the police high command yesterday sought to soothe concerns from the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) about procurement inefficiencies which were raised in an auditor general report tabled in Parliament April.

McIntosh stressed that the procurement management audit (2013-2018) had propelled the ministry to begin overhauling the procurement process in the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF).

Committee members pressed for answers to some of the burning issues raised in the report, such as the contracting method used to procure police uniforms.

Mark Golding, PAC chairman, pointed to one of the key findings that, due to poor planning, the JCF made multiple purchases of uniform material and entered into contracts for the manufacture of uniforms, using emergency and direct contracting methodologies for $623.4 million, or 61 per cent of transactions.

The report noted that although the JCF's recruitment target for 2015-2016 was 828, its procurement plans did not reflect the additional uniforms that would be needed.

The Ministry of National Security says its ongoing procurement transformation programme should resolve the issue and close the gaps between operational budget and procurement planning.

“Most of these emergency contracts are for fairly routine things; these are not things that fluctuate very much from year to year. You probably could achieve 90 per cent of your purchases just from reordering the same amounts you had the previous year... my suspicion is that the provisions or the budgeted provisions for these things are so meagre that they probably cannot get persons to respond to a tender,” PAC member and Manchester Central Member of Parliament Peter Bunting said, pointing to the current provision of $300 per person for detainee meals daily as one example.

Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP) Warren Clarke explained that the procurement process for uniforms was often affected by cash flow problems and a shortage of uniforms at the time, which caused the JCF to move to the direct contracting method.

“We are now moving in another direction; we are benefiting from a better cash flow, which facilitates a better planning process for procurement,” he said.

“A lot of procurement was done in an emergency way because a lot of the competencies and functions did not exist in the unit,” McIntosh stressed, adding that the limited tender process is now being used.

Members also questioned the decision to abandon an action plan to modernise and expand the JCF's bulk fuel facilities in favour of retail purchasing, under a five per cent discount arrangement between the finance ministry and petroleum marketing companies.

ACP Clarke responded: “We thought that the fleet bulk locations outside of the Corporate Area would not be cost-effective because of the distances that you would have to travel to get to the pumps... we thought that it was not a very good idea, so we concentrated on installing pumps and upgrading facilities that were down.”

He said those three facilities are now back in operation.

It is unclear what pricing benchmark is used for the five per cent discount under the retail purchase agreement.

Meanwhile, Bunting and Manchester North Western MP Mikael Phillips questioned the basis for the downward trend in fuel consumption for the JCF fleet, given the significant increase in the number of units over the five years.

According to the report, the JCF's fleet increased from 1,455 in 2013 to 2,271 in 2018, but its retail and bulk fuel usage dropped from 7.7 million litres to 6.4 million litres over the period, resulting in savings of $427 million.

ACP Clarke explained that a raft of efficiency measures were implemented, such as the acquisition of newer vehicles, reduced “idling” of vehicles, a mileage to fuel ratio, fixing faulty odometers, and improving maintenance.

It is unclear how many of the vehicles are operational, as ACP Warren declined to disclose those figures for national security reasons.


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