Independent Senator Dr Kristina Hinds wants to see a greater effort made to improve transparency in Government’s procurement process, as she suggested that some Barbadians were still “suspicous” about the system.
Speaking in the Upper House on Wednesday during debate on the Public Procurement (Amendment) Bill, 2023, Dr Hinds noted that despite the introduction of the e-procurement system, Bonfire, there was still concern among citizens that certain businesses continued to secure the major government contracts.
“If we look at Barbados and if we look at this region, some of the things that we may find are that some of the entities that have amassed wealth, that are wealth creators, are able to do so because of their ability to be successful in bidding for government contracts,” she said.
There is a fear and there is a suspicion – and this is not related to a particular government, I’m talking about something systemic – . . . that when it comes to the award of large contracts, the usual suspects are the ones who would feature prominently. The scraps would remain for those smaller players who, perhaps because of how the tender is constructed, would not be able to perhaps successfully bid for certain things.”
Individuals and companies supplying goods and services to the Government will have to be registered in the Bonfire procurement system which is in its pilot phase. It transitions the procurement process from paper-based to an electronic platform.
Although Hinds acknowledged that the new process will make applications for government contracts hassle-free, she said it did not go far enough to tackle the suspicions that Barbadians have about the process.
“We have to remember that these are tools, and these are not solutions. So we digitise something, it can solve some things. It can solve the long waits, for instance, but it does not solve some of the other things I was speaking about. The concern is that it is those within a network that are able to have access to particular contracts; that they might know about them early, for some reason that has nothing to do with this legislation or the technology,” said the Senior Lecturer in Political Science at the University of West Indies, Cave Hill Campus.
She added that transparency in the political process is also crucial.
“The suspicion that remains in this country [is] that persons or entities who may be funding certain political activities may ‘have an in’ to the tendering process. There is a reason that suspicion exists, and that is because we do not know how political campaigns are financed from either side.
“Governments change and each time they change the suspicions remain. Technology is not going to solve that, having a register and having an online mechanism for registering and bidding is not going to address this,” Hinds asserted.