Procurement process frustrates Government MP

MONTEGO BAY, St James — The public procurement system has been blamed for lengthy delays in the completion of major projects across government agencies and ministries for many years.

For first-time Member of Parliament (MP) for Trelawny Northern Tova Hamilton, that is the harsh reality as she navigates the handling of her rural constituency. According to Hamilton, the issues surrounding procurement have caused great strain on her ability to deliver on her promises to constituents.

The MP noted that while the procurement system was established to promote proper usage of taxpayers’ money, the current system needs to be revisited for efficiency.

“While I fully appreciate that procurement systems play a critical role in the acquisition of goods, services, and works; and a well-designed and implemented system can lead to cost savings, accountability, and transparency, it has been my experience that a poorly managed or flawed system can result in inefficiencies and negatively impact productivity and development,” Hamilton told the Jamaica Observer.

She continued, “My three-year journey as a first-time MP thus far has been a challenging one. I could easily cite the one year and six months of that time spent responding to the COVID-19 pandemic as my greatest challenge but, in fact, it is not.”

Hamilton pointed out that her difficulties, which are not stemming from a lack of resources, may play a significant role in the mistrust felt by her constituents. This, she said, can be seen through the various commitments made to bring about developments to the constituency but which are usually delayed due to procurement challenges. However, in the minds of constituents these instances are simply examples of empty promises made.

“My real challenge is when I have successfully lobbied for resources to address long-standing issues within my constituency and there is an inordinate delay in the execution of same. The reason for these delays, when queried, is almost always procurement-related,” the MP told the Sunday Observer.

“This affects my stewardship as MP because when I indicate to constituents that projects will be undertaken and significant time elapses with no implementation it creates a trust deficit and a whole lot of doubt, owing in large part to their decades-old experiences of false promises. I owe it to my generation to reverse this level of mistrust of our political representatives — and it irks me to think that processes can derail that,” Hamilton explained.

Responding to a Sunday Observer query, the MP stated that the majority of projects undertaken in Trelawny Northern since 2020 had experienced delays, due to the procurement process. “Lengthy approval processes or redundant checks have caused projects to take anywhere from six months to sometimes over a year to manifest, and this is with me calling some of these agencies at least weekly. These bureaucratic processes lead to delays in not just execution, but also in the management of projects as they also impact projects that require rescoping, and affect those that experience service delivery issues,” said Hamilton.

“Every project initiated within the constituency is subject to the procurement process and is implemented by a government agency, including those related to roads, water, electricity, housing, welfare, and education,” she stated.

She pointed out that the procurement process also has no wiggle room as replacing contractors who are underperforming may also take up to a year.

“This situation often necessitates restarting the entire procurement process, leading to an additional delay of six months to a year,” the MP said.

In addition to that, Hamilton said the lengthy process of procuring goods and services comes with negative implications, as the market value of those items may change by the time the process is completed.

“Project delays, especially in infrastructure or community development endeavours, can also greatly affect the value of the completed work due to inflation and market price shifts. When contractors provide bids based on current rates for raw materials, it’s likely that these rates will change by the time the project is executed. Changes in the costs of these raw materials, influenced by inflation or market variations, can directly impact the overall quality of the project’s outcome,” she told the Sunday Observer.

In the meantime, Hamilton is suggesting that changes be made to the public procurement system to lessen the waiting time to have projects approved, while upgrading other areas of the process.

“I’m of the opinion that certain approval processes are redundant and can be condensed — there is no way that a project should take 18 months from procurement to approval,” she said.

“The standstill period applied after the selection of a contractor upon the assessment of bids can be shortened, as well as other timelines within the procurement process — moreso since the process for the most part is now electronic in its application,” the MP reasoned.

She also stated that the current system which determines the grading of contractors for projects be revisited. The thresholds that determine the methods of procurement and the criteria for determining the grade of contractors should also be re-examined, she added.

On top of that, Hamilton said, “Entities that have a centralised procurement system must be adequately staffed and resourced to accommodate the massive developmental projects being undertaken by the Government.

“It is also imperative that the public sector adopts a posture of efficiency and is nimble in its application of the procurement processes so that Jamaica may quickly develop into the place of choice to live, work, raise families, and do business,” the MP concluded.