New law to improve efficiency and transparency in Govt procurement

The Jamaica Observer

KINGSTON, Jamaica (JIS) – The government is working to ensure that the implementation of the Public Procurement Law (PPL) will improve efficiency and transparency in how procurement activities are undertaken in Jamaica.
Senior Director of the Procurement and Asset Policy Unit (PAPU) in the Ministry of Finance and Planning Cecile Maragh tells JIS News that the recently passed PPL, which is expected to be put into operation next year, will advance the country’s procurement landscape.
“The issue of procurement is usually contentious and associated with all the negatives but we anticipate that…there will be a better understanding… (of) the impact it has on our economy and the measures we are taking to make sure that we strengthen the functions,” she says.
The 2003 World Bank assessment of the country’s procurement processes identified areas that needed improvement. These included the roles and functions of the Office of the Contractor General (OCG), the National Contracts Commission (NCC) and the Procurement Policy Office. 
The report also highlighted weaknesses in how auditing was conducted, and made recommendations on how to improve procurement processes.
“Those recommendations propose that we develop a comprehensive policy, procedural manual and standard bidding documents. So, we undertook a comprehensive and forensic audit of ourselves to see exactly what was needed to ensure that our procurement function was being undertaken in keeping with international best practice,” Maragh says.
Maragh highlights some of the major milestones in Jamaica’s procurement processes that have and will continue to help move the country forward.
She says that in keeping with global standards, Jamaica decentralised its procurement function from the Central Supplies Division. Each procuring entity is now obligated to follow the government’s procurement guidelines.
A Public Procurement Certification Programme has also been put in place to train and qualify procurement practitioners. 
A total of 400 procurement officers have been trained as a result of the programme with plans to establish a faculty at the Management Institute for National Development (MIND) for the training of approximately 500 practitioners over the next three years. 
There is also the weekly publication of the National Procurement page on specified days in the daily newspapers, the establishment of an Appeals Board in 2012 and the strengthening of its function.
Another major achievement is the piloting of the Electronic Government Procurement (eGP) System, to allow for increased efficiency throughout the system. 
“We are now in the phase of a rollout in the pilot entities and that will see significant transformation of our landscape of public procurement, how we advertise, how we receive bids, the time it takes to execute a procurement process and have contracts in place,” Maragh says.
The Senior Director says it is expected that the eGP will realize savings of two per cent on the annual procurement bill.
“Last fiscal year, we spent approximately $60 billion on public procurement… A lot of those costs that you see, they account for the production of the bidding document [which] are quite bulky,” she informs.
 In addition, there is the Government of Jamaica Handbook of Public Sector Procurement Procedures, last updated in March 2014.
Maragh says the staging of the inaugural National Public Procurement Conference by the Unit last year was a “huge success” as procurement officers, suppliers, contractors and other stakeholders came together to share their challenges in the sector, some of which guided the PPL.
Meanwhile, heads of procuring entities will be held accountable under the new legislation. They will be required to comply with all procurement processes, ensure the preparation of an annual procurement plan and form a procurement committee.
Procuring entities will also be required to publish a notice of award of procurement contract that specifies the name of the awardee and contract sum.
“Public procurement is a key instrument of development for any nation and must be taken seriously. Each head of entity has a level of responsibility in ensuring that there is accountability and transparency in how public procurement is undertaken,” the Senior Director says. 
The implementation of the PPL will also see the strengthening and expansion of current institutions.
The NCC will be separated from the OCG and will become the Public Procurement Commission (PPC), while PAPU will become the Office of Public Procurement Policy (The Office).
The PPC will, among other functions, approve the award of procurement contracts, register and classify suppliers, approve unregistered suppliers, and assess suppliers on an ongoing basis to ensure the consistency of performance with registration and classification requirements. 
The office will develop and inform public procurement policy, legislation and procedures.
Some of its functions will include developing a code of conduct for procuring entities, developing standard forms of contract, bidding documents and other procurement-related documents as well as monitoring the operation of the procurement process and compliance with the provisions of the legislation and regulations.
The PPL forms part of the Procurement Reform Programme, which is included in the Economic Reform Programme, designed to establish necessary reforms to laws, policies and systems within the business operations of the public sector. 
It is also the country’s first stand alone legal instrument, which will guide how government spends on goods and services.