Watchdog wants tenders transparency

The Commission for Standards in Public Life has called for more transparency in how public contracts are awarded.

In its second report since it was established under the new constitution, the commission has recommended that the Central Tenders Committee publish the minutes and agendas of its meeting and that its members disclose their business interests to ensure there are no conflicts of interest when it comes to awarding contracts.

The report, which was tabled in the Legislative Assembly last week, stated that the Commission for Standards in Public Life had sought information on how members are appointed to the Central Tenders Committee, but the only written policy relating to this was a stipulation in the Financial Regulations (2010 Revision). It said all tenders valued at $250,000 or more must be evaluated by a Central Tenders Committee on which “the chief officer (Public Finance) of the ministry (or his nominee) must serve as chairman and such other persons as may be appointed from time to time by the Financial Secretary”.

“The commission believes that the membership of the CTC should comprise individuals who possess the requisite professional aptitudes and skills from which to draw their experiences in making sound decisions,” the report stated.

The members added that the commission believed appointments to the Central Tenders Committee should be made on the basis of merit.

The report is part of the commission’s constitutionally mandated efforts to police activities of public officials to ensure that proper standards are maintained and that perceptions of corruption within the public sector 
are rooted out.

In its report, the commission called for the Central Tenders Committee to open its meetings to public scrutiny by releasing minutes of its meetings and its agendas.

“Furthermore, the commission believes that there is scope for improvement in the tendering process itself. The chairman of the CTC has been invited to provide the commission with any recommendation that in his view may assist the commission in its examination as to any weaknesses in the system in an attempt to improve and enhance the tendering process on an overall basis,” the report said.

Auditor General Alastair Swarbrick is reviewing Cayman’s public project tendering process following concerns about two major public procurements involving bids for the financing of US$185 million in government loans and public closed-circuit television camera system.

The commission said the findings and recommendations from the Auditor General’s review may have a direct bearing on the commission’s remit.

In its next phase of work, the commission, chaired by Karin Thompson, plans to look at how contracts for less than $250,000 are awarded. All contracts worth $250,000 or more go through the Central Tenders Committee. Contracts for less than that amount are determined by the chief officer of the government body, statutory authority or entity that is making the purchase.

“The commission will be seeking to ascertain whether any changes need to be made in the process governing these ‘lesser’ contracts,” the report said.

It went on to say that the commission believed the legal framework for public procurement “should extend to all tendering activities regardless of value, including those contracts which fall below the thresholds at which the CTC is required to oversee” and called for all dealings with suppliers by contracting authorities to “preserve the highest standards of honesty, integrity, impartiality and objectivity”.

The commission also intends to look at how appointments to statutory bodies are made and how conflicts of interest or corruption – whether real or perceived – can be avoided during that process.

According to the report, “the commission is particularly interested in the qualifications and whether or not members are equipped to make the best decisions and to handle matters falling within their remit.”

Over the past six months, the commission has been working closely with the Legal Drafting Department to draw up a Standards in Public Life Bill – enabling legislation for which there was a “need and urgency” for the commission to carry out its work.

The need for that legislation formed a part of its first report in August last year.

Minutes of the Commission for Standards in Public Life meetings can be found at www.standardsinpubliclifecommission.ky

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