Respect for tender process vital for good governance
Paying for services already provided is one thing but paying for services provided when proper tendering processes were ignored is quite another. It sends out the wrong message especially from a Government that is so fond of espousing the principles of transparency, accountability and good governance.
Even if the responsible officials have been reprimanded and scolded (which we think is not enough), it is still wrong given the amount of money involved. Half a million tala is a significant amount of money for a project other businesses were not given the opportunity to bid for.
But this opens the door to other even more potent questions. Although we are talking about one contract here, how many other contracts have been awarded under similar circumstances?
What is being done to ensure these things do not happen again? And how do officials responsible for such blatant inappropriate decision-making know that the Government is serious about upholding ethics and principles when all they get is a slap on the wrist and told not to misbehave, as we have seen in this case?
For the uninitiated, we are talking about the front-page story titled “Cabinet pays $500,000 tent bill, scolds health chief” published on Wednesday’s Samoa Observer. The story in question quotes the Minister of Finance and the Chairman of the Tenders Board, Sili Epa Tuioti, who confirmed the approval of the payment of $500,000 to Naydith Events Hirage for the temporary rental of outdoor structure as part of the Ministry’s preparations for the coronavirus.
Now let’s be clear here; we do not have anything against the company in question. They provided the service and as long as what they offered is worth the money paid, we believe fair is fair.
What we find unfair, unacceptable and cannot be swallowed without question is how the contract was awarded. Which is where the Minister of Finance makes an extremely valid point.
“The [Health C.E.O., Leausa Take Naseri] and the management have been warned to follow the process and this applies to all the services that are provided by the Ministry,” Sili said. “This is to assure there is a fair chance for all the businesses to be afforded the opportunity to render a bid.”
According to the Minister, the Government has an obligation to make the payment because “the service has been provided therefore the Government must do right by them.”
Well that’s partly true. What the Minister of Finance and the Government must insist on however is doing the right thing by everyone. And if other companies who also offer the same products and services are unhappy, we cannot blame them.
The Tenders Board, which is chaired by Sili, exists for a very important reason.
One of those reasons is that it encourages competition, which gives all the potential suppliers the chance to bid. That process saves the Government money and ensures the best bid gets the job.
Most importantly the process must be transparent and accountable for both the Government and the contractor. In the case of the half a million contract for these tents, this process was clearly not followed. Which begs the question, how common is this in Government?
Let’s not forget that it wasn’t very long ago that the cost of a back-up generator at the Prisons created such an uproar when a Member of Parliament questioned how the cost of it reached $300,000. In the ensuing fall out, the tendering process was also found wanting.
These are not the only examples. There are many more examples we’ve seen in the past of how the tendering process in this country had come under heavy scrutiny.
And being a small country where people are connected everywhere, it is all the more reason the Government needs to tighten the screws to ensure the laws and requirements, which govern the tendering process, are strictly adhered to.
Anything less would open the door to abuse and corruption.
Besides in such a difficult and challenging economic environment like today, the Government must be impartial and work a lot harder to create a level playing field where all businesses are afforded the opportunity to compete for these big contracts. That’s what good governance is all about.