Clint Chan Tack
THE Urban Development Corporation of TT (Udecott) has been working since 2015 to strengthen its public procurement processes. This was the assurance given by acting Udecott CEO Tamica Charles-Phillips to members of the Public Accounts Enterprises Committee (PAEC) during a virtual meeting on Wednesday to discuss the company’s 2014 and 2015 audited financial statements.
Independent Senator Amrita Deonarine said external stakeholders have claimed, “Procurement (in Udecott) is weak in technical expertise resulting in challenges, delays, in procurement.” She added, “They also mentioned there is an absence of standardised bidding for projects which needs to be reformed.”
Charles-Phillips replied, “Some of the weaknesses that would have been identified, would have led to the development of the procurement policy that was approved in 2015.”
She continued, “But we have the procurement policy that was approved in 2015 and which guides what we currently do.” Charles-Phillips explained that internal stakeholder consultations are usually done every quarter. But she added, “We were not able to have it in 2020 because of the constraints of the covid19 pandemic.”
Charles-Phillips said Udecott does not have a formal process for external stakeholder consultations on procurement. She said Udecott has an e-tender system “which allows an increase in the transparency. And when we train the contractors, that is part of us informing them what our processes are and if they have any questions or queries, we are able to deal with it.”
Udecott, Charles-Phillips continued, has appointed an officer to liase with and ensure its compliance with the Office of the Procurement Regulator (OPR).
Government Senator Reunka Sagramsingh-Sooklal asked if Udecott ever received documents supporting financial transactions from the Uff Commission of Inquiry and the Anti-Corruption Bureau to conduct its financial audits.
Charles-Phillips replied, “We were allowed to go to the station and make copies of certain documents but we never received the documents that were taken as part of the Uff Commission. We never received those documents back into our possession.”
The Commission of Enquiry into the Construction Sector chaired by Prof John Uff, also known as the Uff Inquiry, began on September 2008 and ended in March 2010. Part of the Uff Commission’s mandate involved inquring into Udecott’s methods and practices.
Charles-Phillips also said Udecott is strengthening its procurement process in keeping with the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Property (Amendment) Bill, 2020. The bill was passed in the House of Representatives and the Senate last December and is awaiting proclamation by the President.
Responding to claims from Mayaro MP Rushton Paray that Udecott employees said there was “a pass the buck culture” in the company, Charles-Phillips said that also existed pre-2015 and is not the case now. She identified wellness sessions, suggestion boxes and a regular newsletter among some of the ways that Udecott gets feedback from its employees about ways to improve its operations.
Responding to a question from PAEC chairman Wade Mark, Finance Ministry Permament Secretary Michelle Durham-Kissoon told PAEC members that Udecott will soon receive approval from the ministry to hire an additional auditor to complete some of its outstanding financial statements.
Charles-Phillips also assured members of the committee that Udecott has sufficient staff to effectively carry out its operations.
Speaking on the issue, Government Senator Laurel Lezama-Lee Sing observed there appeared to be a 20 to 30 per cent turnover of staff in the period under review. Port of Spain South MP Keith Scotland opined that based on data provided to the PAEC, Udecott appeared to be “more than ten per cent short” of what could be considered an optimal number of staff.
He said, “It is important for an entity of that significance to have full complement of staff.”
In response, Charles-Phillips said, “Through our recruitment process we do replace as needed. We make sure that our projects are adequately staffed to be able to effectively deliver on our mandate.”
Charles-Phillips added that in 2019, 322 out of 365 positions in Udecott were filled.
“What we had was sufficient for the projects that we had and were required to do.”