By YOURI KEMP
THE PRIME Minister yesterday pledged that eliminating waste of taxpayer monies is a “high priority” while blasting legislation passed under the former Minnis administration as “unworkable”.
Philip Davis KC, leading off House of Assembly debate on the Public Procurement Bill 2022 and Public Finance Management Bill 2023, argued that the former administration had failed to ensure the legislation they are replacing was “practical and consistent with sound public policy”:
The new Bills are designed to repeal, and replace, the Public Procurement Act 2021 and, in the case of the Public Finance Management Bill, the Public Financial Management Act 2021 and Fiscal Responsibility Act 2018.
“The Public Procurement Bill before us today repeals and replaces the 2021 Public Procurement Act. The 2021 Act produced some of the unintended public policy consequences that we are keen to avoid,” Mr Davis said. The new Bill, which was tabled in fall 2022, allows the Government to offer preferential treatment to micro, small and medium-sized, women-owned and Family Island businesses in the competition for, and award, of government contracts.
Mr Davis said: “These are high priority areas we are targeting as a government to diversify opportunities in The Bahamas. I think this point bears repeating. Under the current Act, the most well-established, well-resourced businesses were able to dominate government contracts under the guise of them being the best fit for the job. This sounds good on paper but ignores the reality on the ground.”
As for the Public Financial Management Act, the Prime Minister said the necessary systems and human resources capacity were not in place in the Ministry of Finance and elsewhere in government to ensure it could be properly implemented.
“We have ensured that the necessary pre-requisites are in place for the successful modernisation of public finances in The Bahamas,” Mr Davis said. “Our first priority was to look out for the finance and accounting officers who were overlooked by the previous administration.”
He pointed out that the Government’s payroll system, which has been in use since 1998, employs software that is no longer supported by the manufacturer. Hitting out at the former Minnis administration for failing to upgrade it, Mr Davis said: “The real victims of their inaction were the thousands of public servants who showed up to work every day but were unable to receive the money they earned.
“This is not just a hiccup in the system. We are talking about people’s careers and livelihoods here. The Government’s Enterprise Resource Planning system was last updated during the last PLP administration. This is yet another area where very little progress was made.
“There were additional upgrades necessary to assist with facilitating operational, financial and human resource processes. Once again, it now falls on us to take up the mantle of digitisation and address these outstanding issues,” the Prime Minister continued.
“To correct these deficiencies we have signed an agreement with a leading company named Oracle to put in place a cloud-based Enterprise Resource Planning application. This is going to modernise the financial operations of the Government at a much lower cost, as the vendor is providing both the hardware and software for this application.”
Mr Davis said the Public Finance Management Bill will allow for the “strengthening” of the Fiscal Responsibility Council by improving the “confidentiality of information and enhanced qualification requirements for members; greater flexibility for budgetary reallocations, increasing the limit from 3 percent to 5 percent; the introduction of a code of corporate governance to provide oversight of government agencies and business enterprises; the establishment of a Public Sector Audit Committee; better facilitation of the transition to accrual accounting; and re-inserting the provisions related to the deposit fund account, among other significant changes”.
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