OAG: Ministers must stay out of procurement process

| 15/08/2022 | 42 Comments

(CNS): The Office of the Auditor General found no evidence of inappropriate actions by the civil service over the procurement of lateral flow tests to help manage the COVID-19 pandemic last year and that decisions made by Cabinet members were “reasonable and appropriate”. However, Auditor General Sue Winspear said clarity is needed around emergency decisions to acquire goods or services and ministers should always stay out of the procurement process once the decisions are made and documented.

In November 2021 Cabinet, including the governor and deputy governor, asked Winspear to review the issues that arose during the procurement of LFTs after two ministries each made a separate order, one of them with a local supplier that threatened to sue the government when that order was cancelled.

In the short report on her findings, Winspear set out the chain of events that led the government to pursue two separate orders, one with a UK supplier and another with a local medical company. She found that there are questions surrounding the procurement law and whether or not Cabinet is an ‘entity’ as defined by the law when it comes to emergencies. She also said that when the government’s inner circle makes a decision about procurement, even as a result of an emergency, those decisions must be properly documented.

The auditor general made three key recommendations as a result of her findings. One is that once Cabinet makes a decision to purchase something, there should be no further political interference, not least to protect them from the inherent risks of procurement exercises, such as allegations of unfair practices and cronyism.

“It is best practice for the civil service to deliver a procurement process without any political input once the decision to procure is made,” Winspear wrote in her first recommendation. “Once a procurement process is delegated to the civil service to implement, ministers must not intervene in that process.” She said they can ask questions and even make suggestions as they hold the civil servants involved to account but they should not directly participate in or influence the procurement exercise.

In this case, while Winspear concluded that no one was doing anything wrong, it appears ministers did become involved in the process after Cabinet made decisions to purchase. She also found that those decisions should be better documented since much of the decision-making over the proposed acquisition of some two million LFTs appears to have been directed by word of mouth.

It also appears that while the health ministry was making one order for half a million kits from a local supplier, the education ministry went ahead and made plans for a separate order to deal with the tests needed for schools. Finance Minister Chris Saunders was also directly involved, as he cancelled a preliminary order made by the health ministry.

Winspear said that Saunders had called Randy Merren, the owner of Blue Water Medical Supplies, the company contracted to sell half a million tests to government, and cancelled that order around the same time that Education Minister Juliana O’Connor-Connolly had asked Cabinet to allow her ministry to purchase one million test kits from a UK-based company, Crown Agents, under Cabinet’s emergency powers.

Previous negotiations with that British supplier had broken down a month before, which had led to the health ministry ordering half a million test kits from Bluewater to fill the gap until a larger order was successfully settled.

It is not clear from Winspear’s report if O’Connor-Connolly had presented her request to Cabinet because of the month-long delay in placing even the small order. However, the OAG said the education ministry decided to ask Cabinet to approve the purchase of one million LFTs from Crown Agents using
the “emergency” provision. The report found that, given the situation relating to the pandemic and the need for school tests, it was reasonable for the minister to suggest it was an emergency.

Shortly after the order with Bluewater was cancelled by Saunders, the local company, which had already ordered the tests, sued the government but the legal action was stopped when the government replaced the order. Winspear has made no comment in the report on the comparative prices of the tests, which were in the end acquired from both Bluewater and Crown.

In her recommendations, Winspear points out that the procurement law needs to make it clear whether or not Cabinet can make directions in an emergency about who should get a contract as well as when and how an emergency situation is declared. She also stressed the need for decisions like these to be properly recorded in the Cabinet minutes, as that is the only formal record of all of the decisions made by the political arm of government.

See the report in the CNS Library.


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Category: Government Finance, Government oversight, Politics

Comments (42)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    This all begs the question whether random emergency purchases by various agencies is “good government.” What was the deputy governor doing to sort this out? Your system seems to discourage sensible action and to diffuse and conceal individual responsibility.

  2. Anonymous says:

    That’s typical Chris!

    Over inflated sense of self importance “me ah go call dem right ya now”

    Smh

    18
    • Anonymous says:

      Had to laugh..Kenneth this morning on the radio said all these regulations are an impediment..
      “It’s not as if we are a corrupt country”
      Idiot doesn’t realize it is because of regulations like the procurement law that helps keep the corruption down.

      23
    • Anonymous says:

      8:36am. What a hell of a mess we are in now with him in the position he holds. Can you imagine him aspiring to be the next Premier? God direct our path.

      10
  3. Anonymous says:

    Lawd help us to survive this cartel!. By the time them finish finish we will moving to Jam.

    14
    1
    • Anonymous says:

      Yes. When the member for BTW is allowed to have his district office in his house and collecting money for a rented space. The slackness and corruption is mind boggling, but what can be expected, we are dealing with from back a yard.

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  4. Always has and always will be says:

    Being an MP comes with a licence to fill your pockets via govt. deals and buddy run startup companies working for CIG.

    29
    1
  5. Anonymous says:

    Was any analysis done on the PCR test procurement? *cough* *cough*

    17
    1
  6. Anonymous says:

    Deaths since 2019.
    Covid 29
    Motor vehicles 39

    14
    4
    • Anonymous says:

      silly comparison and not comparing like with like…. and i’m someone who thinks covid lockdowns were 1000% over the top reaction.

      5
      11
    • Anonymous says:

      you don’t get it.
      covid was such a threat because it had the ability to cripple our entire health service….that will never happen with road accidents.
      stop making the comparison please.

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      4
      • Anonymous says:

        Yes. I recall the field hospital they was put up and unused. I recall that we had one of the highest transmission rates at one point.

        7
        2
      • Bluck says:

        “Had” being the operative word. It had that risk in 2020. It does not have that risk anymore. CIG still acts as if it did with its quarantine rules

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    • Anonymous says:

      Quarantine all motor vehicles indefinitely!

      5
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  7. Anonymous says:

    This OAG needs to just sit down and be quite. Our representatives always need to be involved so we get the best deals and it helps us in general.

    3
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  8. Anonymous says:

    This group of political clowns just can’t help themselves with their moto of “it’s all broken so we have license to do whatever we want to fix it”. The whole lot have got to go.

    26
  9. Anonymous says:

    Cabinet, DG, COs, Civil Service…the blind leading the blind! No one seems to know protocol, or care!

    Stand firm OAG!

    32
    1
    • Anonymous says:

      3:37. You must have been sleeping when you posted. You obviously didn’t read the report.

      4
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      • Anonymous says:

        So, 16 @ 12:06 pm – If I’m wrong and it was neither ignorance nor arrogance on the DPs behalf, then what was it, Einstein?

  10. Sure says:

    Did the Premier secure “mate’s rates”?

    15
  11. Anonymous says:

    And the grift goes on

    34
  12. Anonymous says:

    Randy Merren … isn’t he the Premiers business partner ?

    40
  13. Anonymous says:

    Randy Merren…. Thr scales drop from my eyes..

    37
    3
    • Anonymous says:

      What issue with him is so bothering to you?

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      • Anonymous says:

        Unbid large contract award.

        8
        1
        • Anonymous says:

          It was bid. That was the point. OAG found no problem with the award of the contract to Merren’s company.

          4
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          • Anonymous says:

            Can you read? The contract was awarded to Crown Agents under the restricted tender provisions, not Blue Water. No order was placed and the contract was then diverted to Blue Water by the intervention of the Ministry.

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  14. Anonymous says:

    Not sure why they stopped either order as I am sure we definitely needed all of them at the time..

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  15. Anonymous says:

    Cabinet agreed to allow a private sector monopolist to trump-up a predatory fuel factor surcharge, even as crude prices drop to levels last seen before invasion of Ukraine. Will PACT walk that authorization back? Was it even conditional on prices remaining high? #badnegotiators

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    • Anonymous says:

      With who we have as Premier and Deputy Premier, what more can you expect? Not much.

      17
    • Anonymous says:

      Do you understand that our power fuel factor costs are 3 months behind the fuel purchases???
      So increases in fuel factor costs take 3 months to come into effect and therefore so too do decreases.
      I look forward to the day when we may not have these or at least they become lower & stable, but please do not repeat nonsense.

      7
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      • Anonymous says:

        I have never seen an increase take as long as 3 months to come into effect. “Our tanks were almost empty” is usually the excuse. Then when fuel costs drop “Our tanks are full and we need to get rid of the previously bought fuel” excuse then comes into play. Weird how it conveniently works that way.

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        • Anonymous says:

          ‘Our tanks are full/empty’: words CUC has never said regarding the fuel factor. You’re confusing the Esso/Sol depots & car-fuel stations with CUC fuel factor.

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