Hemming and Hawing Over Procurement

IF I had one wish for my country, it would be to overcome the implementation deficit which plagues every aspect of our society. From the Litter Law to the Electronic Speeding Tickets to the Beverage Container Bill to the Procurement Legislation and the list goes on and on. We seem unable/unwilling to implement the ideas which will drag our country out of the morass of underdevelopment.

2005 White Paper

The idea behind reforming the public sector procurement regime predates the 2005 White Paper, but that August 2005 White Paper codifies what should be done, and how it should be done. It even outlines the preferred procurement model. The nine-member committee included representatives from the Ministry of Finance, the Trinidad and Tobago Manufacturers Association, the Tobago House of Assembly, Trinidad and Tobago Transparency Institute, Central Tenders Board, Trinidad and Tobago Chamber of Industry and Commerce, and the Joint Consultative Council. This White Paper was created under the People’s National Movement (PNM)-led Manning administration which
included our current prime minister, so there is an intimate understanding of the importance of operationalising the legislation.  Is this lack of implementation deliberate or coincidental?

Manipulating the system

Seventeen years later the White Paper has transitioned to the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Property Act, but our government continues to spend billions of dollars without the establishment of either the operational framework or the oversight institution. A major negative impact is that tendering and procurement procedures can still be manipulated according to what the leadership wants to achieve.

Removing loopholes

Morality and transparency were the clarions calls in the PNM’s 2015 bid for General Elections and page 21 of its manifesto states:  “We will move swiftly to make the necessary improvements to the Public Procurement Act, in order to remove loopholes, limitations, and weakness that currently exist in the legislation, and, in consultation with all stakeholders, establish and implement a realistic timetable for the full implementation of the Act.” Seven years later we are still wobbling and hemming and hawing over its operationalisation.

Is this truly an implementation deficit?  Or like so many other things, is it that the leadership is waiting for the right players to be lined up before pressing the approval button and ensuring implementation?

The public sector team which pushed for the transformation to a modern procurement system included:

  • The Trinidad and Tobago Manufacturers Association;
  • Trinidad and Tobago Transparency Institute;
  • Trinidad and Tobago Chamber of Industry and Commerce, and
  • The Joint Consultative Council.

Reigniting the procurement voices

These voices need to be collectively re-ignited to push the government to remove the bottlenecks that are preventing implementation.  Implementing a modern, efficient procurement system can only benefit our country.  Daily citizens str exposed to the effects of our poorly implemented procurement system and daily we see a lack of accountability.  For example, when the clippings on the side of the highway are not removed for more than six weeks, it is an example of weak implementation of a procurement system.

Backbone of a well-functioning government

An efficient and effective procurement system can result in money being available for drugs in our hospitals, money to pay teachers a living wage, money for the repair of our potholes, and money for all the areas we are underperforming.  An efficient and effective public procurement system can be the backbone of a well-functioning government and God knows that this government needs to begin to function in our collective interest.

Mental Wellness needs daily attention

Caribbean Wellness chats with Djavila Ho, Associate Clinical Psychologist and President of the Jamaican Psychological Society (JamPsych), the professional body for psychologists and counselors in Jamaica. Full membership in JamPsych is available to persons who have a degree in psychology, a psychology-related field, or counseling. Membership is also available to persons living aboard and to students who are in the process of becoming qualified.

The status of wellbeing in Jamaica

Jamaica’s Ministry of Health has added Wellness to its title and is now known as the Ministry of Health and Wellness. This is a clear indication that the Ministry is moving beyond the physical aspects of health to including mental health and mental well-being. It is also expected to have a positive impact on the population and help to reduce the feelings of discomfort and embarrassment that several people feel about mental wellness. While Djavila recognizes that mental wellness is stigmatized, she is confident that the attitude is changing, and more and more people are beginning to feel comfortable reaching out for help.

Mental well-being undergirds society

She comments that psychology and mental health undergird everything in society and suggests that psychologists and counselors, who understand and use psychological science in their everyday work should have a seat at the table when policy is being developed. This could go a long way toward improving mental health and mental wellness throughout society. Mental wellness in the workplace In discussing the role of employers in ensuring mental wellness, Djavila noted the importance of employers considering mental health and wellness when developing business plans. One way to create a culture that supports mental health and wellness is to ensure that Employee Assistance Programmes – (EAP) cover mental health and wellness activities and that insurance packages cover medications, doctor visits, and psychiatry or psychology visits.

Being intentional about mental wellness

While it is recognized that Mental Wellness is a personal decision, company policies can help nudge people into taking personal responsibility and moving away from the unfortunate culture of workaholism to intentionally creating work-life balance. That balance can begin with the simple question: “What have I done for my own mental wellness today?” This could lead to individuals taking a moment to enjoy their surroundings or reading something that is not related to work or just breathing in the fresh air. While being intentional about self-care is trendy, it is so important that self-care appointments should be scheduled into a person’s daily calendar so that it becomes an expectation and not an “if I have time” activity. Scheduling self-care into your calendar makes it something that you will show up for. Mental wellness does not have to be a grand luxurious thing. It should be made part of your daily routine and incorporated into everything else that you are involved in.

Making mental wellness part of your routine is also a great way to engage those around you and maybe help them to become intentional about their own mental wellness activities.

Djavila is optimistic that mental wellness will continue to be destigmatized and eventually be regarded as just another aspect of our total wellness agenda. As societies move towards understanding mental health based on data and facts, there should be a higher level of acceptance that mental illness is like physical illness and that persons should not be discriminated against because of any mental health conditions.

Progress and mental well-being are inextricably bound.

It is therefore necessary to ensure that wellness and mental health considerations are integrated into the delivery of primary and secondary general health care. All aspects of health and social policy and health-system planning must be considered if we want to live up to the notion of the first Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) Dr. Brock Chisholm who famously stated that “without mental health, there can be no true physical health”.