THE Integrity Commission is urging the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation to give policy directives to Members of Parliament (MPs) and other entities in the public sector, to declare their association with contractors when they make recommendations for work.
At the same time, the National Works Agency (NWA) was urged to create and enforce policy for the independent evaluation of all contractors who are recommended to the agency.
The recommendations followed an investigation into the close to $1-million works contract awarded to the personal accountant of late former Portland Eastern MP Dr Lynvale Bloomfield in July 2017, based on a recommendation he made to the works agency.
In a special report to Parliament on Tuesday on the circumstances and findings surrounding the contract, the commission urged the job creation ministry, which falls under the Office of the Prime Minister, to implement policy which ensures that when officials make contract recommendations to the NWA or any other body, it is accompanied by written declarations, outlining any relationship or association which could be a potential conflict of interest.
The commission said it found irregularity and lack of transparency in the process which was used to award a $999,530 works contract to Dr Bloomfield’s personal accountant, based on his recommendation.
The probe was launched to look into allegations of favouritism, conflict of interest, impropriety, and irregularity in the award of a contract under the Portland Eastern special mitigation programme in 2017.
According to Kevon Stephenson, the commission’s director of investigations, the NWA failed to clearly outline the process used to determine the suitability of the contractor, outside of Dr Bloomfield’s recommendation.
He said failure to disclose the status of the relationship between the MP and the contractor to the NWA was a breach under Government public procurement guidelines. “His recommendation of her to the NWA for the award of a Government contract was irregular and indicative of favouritsm,” the report said
The director also criticised the use of a verbal request by the NWA for recommendations, and Bloomfield’s verbal recommendation in his capacity as MP, noting that it was irregular and lacked transparency.
Stephenson said the accounting and accountable officers of the NWA breached public procurement guidelines and sections of the then Contractor General Act by failing to submit the requisite quarterly contract award reports to that office (now subsumed along with two other agencies to form the Integrity Commission), advising of the contract awarded to the accountant in July 2017.
The commission pointed out that based on the 1,668 awarded contracts recorded in the NWA’s database for 2017, the agency was aware of its obligation to report information regarding the award of contracts above the threshold of $500,000.
However, it said while the recommendation represented a conflict of interest there was no evidence that guidelines were breached in relation to the NWA’s use of the direct contracting method in selecting a contractor.
Furthermore, the investigator concluded that although payments were made under the contract to Dr Bloomfield’s accountant, there was no evidence to prove claims by her that labourers were paid for the work they did.