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Contractor General takes Strong Stance on Procurement Practices

Contractor General Omar Mitchell is taking a strong stance on procurement practices. Love News received an internal memo from the Office of the Contractor General which explains the rules to awarding of contracts and procurement practices. Hipolito Novelo reports.

On page three of this memo, under “Confidentiality” it reads that all correspondence, memos, and emails from the OCG are confidential”. Ironically memo number one of 2021 from the Office of the Contractor General was leaked exclusively to Love News. The subject of the memo is procurement practices- it’s not a new subject but rather one that has been brought up many times in recent years by parliamentarians. 

Senator Mark Lizarraga

Mark Lizarraga, Former Senator for Private Sector: “If the processes employed are less than transparent and if we know that party political hacks, partisan individuals continue to get these major contracts then we have to question.” 

And they did. Questions after questions, complaints after complaints were voiced to the previous government but nothing much was done. It was senators who rejected the reappointment of Godwin Arzu as Contractor General after he failed to produce yearly reports. 

Arzu was succeeded by Omar Mitchell who in February 2020 was appointed to the post for three years. Mitchell is bring down the hammer on the Financial Secretary, Cabinet Secretary, Accountant General, Auditor General, CEO’s, accounting officers, HOD’s, and even the Finance Minister, John Briceno. 

Mitchell’s memo is direct and strongly worded. It reminds the recipients that the law requires open tendering for contracts valued more than fifty thousand dollars. In fact, the memo reveals that in 2021 alone there have been numerous submissions to his office where the use of limited tendering were used for contracts valued more than fifty thousand dollars. Mitchell says the reasons but those reasons are debatable. These include “emergencies that have been emergencies for several months, if not a year, limited time which in reality is the result of poor planning or internal organization, dubious claims of lack of appropriate suppliers or qualified person.”

Mitchell then lays down this rule- “effectively immediately, whether it is public funds or donor funds, submissions must be made to the office of Contractor General for pre-approval for the use of limited or selective tendering for amounts upwards of fifty thousand dollars three working days in advance.” If this rule is not followed, Mitchell will not issue a certificate. 

 Then there is the issue of the selection of supplier. Under the previous UDP government we heard the same names receiving several multimillion dollar contracts. 

Mark Lizarraga, Former Senator for Private Sector:How it is that only one contractor seems to be favored or very few contractors seem to be favored for all of these major major works that we’re seeing done, major infrastructural works that we see throughout the country and only the few preferred contractors get these jobs and in a process that is not too transparent if I may say.” 

Mitchell is looking to make that process transparent and says he will scrutinize the choice of suppliers. He says that suppliers must be experienced, well-resourced and reliable, financially. Suppliers must provide letters of good standing from the Companies registry, Belize Tax Service and the Belize Social Security Board as part of the process.