THE newly-established Office of Procurement Regulation may be Trinidad and Tobago’s last stand in the battle against abuse and misuse of public resources. To date, every effort to bring accountability to the disposal of public property has failed or fallen far short of expectations, including the Central Tenders Board and the Integrity Commission. Despite the high investment of time, money, intellectual energy and hope, the result has been disappointment with the country sinking deeper into the mire of corruption.
This history of failure should weigh heavily on the members of the newly-constituted Procurement Board as they prepare for the activation of Procurement laws. Theirs is the historic opportunity to turn the tide of corruption and set it onto a path of accountability. In embracing the task, Regulator Moonilal Lalchan and his team do not enjoy the luxury of mistakes.
As the first occupants of the Office of Procurement Regulation, they must win the confidence of a public that has grown cynical on the issue of corruption. One mistake could undo all the years of tough negotiations and relentless lobbying to get successive governments to put Procurement legislation on the parliamentary agenda and see it through to the end. For this, the country owes a great debt to the Joint Consultative Council which led the arduous process through its many stages under different governments.
As the first person to occupy the office of Regulator, Mr Lalchan has the opportunity to shape the culture of the office and set the tone for its relationship with its many publics. The procurement regulation team should not expect to win any popularity contests. Getting the job done might require stepping on some very big toes and mashing many corns.
In a country where the contact system has defeated every system of accountability, and where influence-peddling has long been the norm, the Office of Procurement Regulation might have no choice but to be a disruptive force just to do its job. This will require courage from all involved and we are heartened by the Regulator’s pledge to give it his best shot in the interest of creating a better Trinidad and Tobago.
As they begin to tackle complaints and conduct investigations, Mr Lalchan and his team are likely to be tested in many more ways than they can imagine. Everyone who supports accountability in the use of public money and goods would hope that they will not be found wanting.
Widespread corruption at every level of the society is a cancer that pauperises the treasury, destroys T&T’s aspirations to excellence and undermines public trust in the systems of governance.
By rewarding wrong-doing and punishing those who follow the rules, corruption sends a dangerous message that it pays to do bad.
If it succeeds, the Office of Procurement Regulation will do more than clean up the processes by which public property is procured and disposed of. As a model of accountability, it could serve to dismantle the very culture that supports the national edifice of crime.