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Politics


Cabinet Memorandum on national interest

The President, as Minister of Finance and Planning, has forwarded a Cabinet Memorandum for securing national interest in recommending ‘Tender Awards’.

Needless to say, that protecting and securing national interest is the sole and only responsibility of an elected government, this Cabinet Memorandum could be deemed to be redundant, in that, no government is expected to do anything against the national interest.

Though a mere perusal of the Cabinet Memorandum reveals laudable objectives of protecting and securing national interest, a careful reading of it raises serious issues and contradictions.

For instance, it is stated that the National Procurement Agency (NPA) has set out guidelines to make the procurement process transparent and to obtain the best and the most advantageous procurement for the country. One would believe, no doubt, in the national interest.

Contradicting such position, the NPA has been suddenly given ‘marching orders’ by the Presidential Secretariat to windup from end February 2008, without any reasons publicly made known, in the national interest !

Reliable sources state that the functions of the NPA, after this, are to be carried out by the Department of Public Finance, which comes under the Treasury. Therefore, there would not be any independent supervisory check and balance of public procurements, primarily paid for by the Ministry of Finance, and agreements on behalf of the government, also entered into by the Ministry of Finance.

The Cabinet Memorandum also states that the procurement process causes long delays, causing considerable additional costs, and in contradiction therewith, states that the related agreements should be carefully scrutinized. One gets the ‘feeling’ that speedy procurements must be facilitated, whereby even ‘dead duck deals’ could be dumped on the nation, by trying to ‘short circuit’, the procurement process.

National Interest, no doubt, must be protected at all costs. But what is defined, as national interest, is unknown, particularly, in relation to a procurement or a deal with the government. Does the Cabinet Memorandum imply that the procurement process hitherto have all been against the national interest? If not, then why the Cabinet Memorandum, and how does one justify same?

Before any such procurement or deal, ought not the criteria or factors of national interest be pre-defined and made public, to ensure a ‘level playing field’?

Finally, there must be public justification and accountability for any change or deviation from the tried and tested process for procurements or government deals, to prevent questionable and unjustified ‘intermeddling’ at the final goal post. Otherwise, the proposed Cabinet Memorandum would leave room for ‘wheeling and dealing’, and erode international confidence in the country.

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