By Dr. Janaka Ratnasiri
In an interview held in one of the TV channels on 07.09.2020 ending at midnight, Justice Minister Ali Sabry said that the National Procurement Commission (NPC), established among the several independent commissions under the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, has not served any useful purpose during the 5 years of its existence and is a redundant organization. Perhaps during his short tenure as the Justice Minister, he appears to have not grasped the importance of the NPC and hence this write up.
NEED FOR PROCUREMENT GUIDELINES
Sri Lanka’s budget for 2019 has been LKR 2,365 Billion for capital and LKR 2,178 Billion for recurrent expenditure according to Central Bank of Sri Lanka Annual Report for 2018 (Table 100). Other than the payments on salaries and interest & capital repayment on loans, the rest will have to be spent on procuring goods and services both by the government institutions and semi-government institutions. Hence, it is important that there are norms and guidelines in place for incurring such expenditure to ensure that public funds are not siphoned out either by officials or by suppliers.
Originally, the Department of Public Finance (DPF) functioning under the Treasury played the role of managing the expenditure in public sector organizations and had the responsibility for a sound public finance regulatory framework which improves transparency, accountability and service delivery in the public sector. The DPF has issued several guidelines for the benefit of public sector organizations outlining procedures and methodologies for the procurement of goods and services.
However, media reports reveal that more often than not, public sector organizations act in violation of these guidelines causing millions of rupee losses to the government. One reason may be that DPF lacks a mechanism to monitor whether these organizations strictly follow these guidelines or not. Any shortfalls generally come to light only when their finances are audited when it is too late to take any corrective measures.
NATIONAL PROCUREMENT COMMISSION
Realizing the need to have a strong body to monitor procurements amounting to several thousands of billions of rupees annually being undertaken by various government ministries, departments, as well by semi-government organizations including statutory boards, commissions, authorities, universities, banks and government owned commercial enterprises, the government established in 2015 the National Procurement Commission as an independent commission. It is the sole authority for the governance of all procurement activities by Government Institutions.
This was included as one among the nine independent commissions established under the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution (NAC) of Sri Lanka. The NAC Act describes the constitution, functions and powers vested on the NPC. However, as lamented by the Justice Minister, during the last five years of its existence one cannot be satisfied that it was effective in streamlining procurement procedures and in monitoring the procurements being made in government organizations as provided for in the NAC Act.
CONSTITUTION AND FUNCTIONS
The NPC comprises five members appointed by the President on the recommendation of the Constitutional Council (CC), of whom at least three members shall be persons who have had proven experience in procurement, accountancy, law or public administration. The President shall, on the recommendation of the CC, appoint one member as the Chairman of the NPC. The NAC Act has assigned the following functions to the NPC.
(1) It shall be the function of the Commission to formulate fair, equitable, transparent, competitive and cost effective procedures and guidelines, for the procurement of goods and services, works, consultancy services and information systems by government institutions and cause such guidelines to be published in the Gazette and within three months of such publication, to be placed before Parliament.
(2) It shall be the function of the Commission to:
(a) monitor and report to the appropriate authorities, on whether all procurement of goods and services, works, consultancy services and information systems by government institutions are based on procurement plans prepared in accordance with previously approved action plans;
(b) monitor and report to the appropriate authorities on whether all qualified bidders for the provision of goods and services, works, consultancy services and information systems by government institutions are afforded an equal opportunity to participate in the bidding process for the provision of those goods and services, works, consultancy services and information systems;
(c) monitor and report to the appropriate authorities on whether the procedures for the selection of contractors, and the awarding of contracts for the provision of goods and services, works, consultancy services and information systems to government institutions, are fair and transparent; and
(d) report on whether members of Procurement Committees and Technical Evaluation Committees relating to the procurements, appointed by government institutions are suitably qualified; and
(e) investigate reports of procurements made by government institutions outside established procedures and guidelines, and to report the officers responsible for such procurements to the relevant authorities for necessary action.
EXERCISING THE FUNCTIONS UNDER THE NPC
Though the functions of the NPC are clearly laid down in the NAC Act as listed above, the NPC does not appear to exercise them when public sector organizations procure goods or services. This may be due to the fact the NPC has not published any gazette notifications announcing any regulations that other public sector organizations are bound to follow when making procurements. The NPC does not seem to voluntarily monitor procurement processes in other organizations though it has the mandate to perform that function. This was evident from their response to a query made by the writer with regard to procurements undertaken by the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB).
The CEB has been attempting to procure thermal power plants with capacity 300 MW in the recent past which have not been finalized yet. It is noteworthy that such a power plant will cost around USD 300 million or LKR 50 billion. The writer pointed out in several of his writings in the Island (28.03.2019, 19.08.2019 & 03.10.2019) the shortcomings in their procurement process that has caused delays in finalizing the procurements. The CEB is also planning to procure a coal power plant of capacity 300 MW from China without going through the approved procurement guidelines despite the fact that the procurement involves such a large sum of money.
Several months ago, the writer brought this to the attention of the NPC inquiring whether NPC has monitored these procurements as mandated in the Act. The response the writer received was that the NPC would inquire into such cases only if they receive an official request from the relevant Ministry! This is an absurd situation, because one cannot expect the Ministry to make such a request when the Ministry itself is a party responsible for the delays.
Obviously, the Commission has not understood their mission and it is necessary to have a set of new members who understand their mission and motivated to exercise their authority without fear and favour. Enforcing guidelines on procurements worth several thousands or millions of rupees will not serve the purpose of having such a set of guidelines, if the guidelines are overlooked in the case of high-value procurements. If the NPC has not been effective in the past, the solution is to change its management rather than closing down the organization.
CURRENT PROCEDURE IN PROCUREMENT
For the purpose of procuring high value goods and services, several Procurement Committees (PC) are appointed to handle the procurement process and for the determination of contract award.
A department or an institute after identifying the need to make a procurement, a request is made to the Treasury through the relevant Ministry for budgetary allocation for the procurement along with a statement justifying the procurement. Thereafter a Technical Devaluation Committee (TEC) is appointed with the concurrence of the Ministry who will draft the specifications for the procurement. It is important that this is done carefully not making it too stringent or too general. Generally, a member from an outside organization with relevant expertise is included in the TEC.
The procurement division of the organization will then prepare a Request for Proposals (RFP) incorporating the specifications and other tender requirements such as specifying bid bonds and procurement bonds. Depending on the value of the procurement, Ministry Procurement Committee (MPC) and a Cabinet Appointed Procurement Committee (CAPC) will be appointed who are expected to screen the RFP to ensure that it does not favour a particular supplier. The RFP should also be written in simple language giving only the essential information so that the bid evaluation could be carried out expeditiously. Tenders with complicated RFPs invariably will end up in court cases. Once approved, the RFP is published in the media calling for proposals.
The functions of the NPC as listed above would require that the composition of the PCs and TECs as well as the RFP documents are approved by the NPC to ensure that members of the PCs are suitably qualified and also all qualified bidders are afforded an equal opportunity to participate in the bidding process, as required under the functions of the NPC. The author believes that this process does not happen now probably because there are no regulations gazetted by the NPC to that effect. This is one of the failures of NPC that needs to be rectified.
The bids received are first evaluated by the TEC and those meeting the specifications and other tender conditions are forwarded to the MPC and depending on the value of the tender, submitted to the CAPC as well. In making the final recommendation, compliance with specifications is given priority while taking note of the value of the bid offered as well as the suitability of the bidder for supplying the item or providing the service requested. If an unsuccessful bidder is not satisfied with the decision for the award, he may appeal to a standing Appeals Board requesting reconsideration of the evaluation.
CABINET INVOLVEMENT IN AWARDING CONTRACTS
It is the general practice today to seek the approval of the Cabinet of Ministers for bids worth above a certain limit. If one peruses the list of Cabinet decisions published weekly, it is noted that a significant number of decisions reported in every Cabinet meeting are in respect of approvals for awarding contracts for construction of buildings for the government including hospitals, Divisional Secretariats, schools, universities and other infrastructure facilities. Is this the function of the Cabinet of Ministers? Shouldn’t they spend their time on more important issues of national level?
The author would like to propose that the function of granting approvals for high-value contracts be vested with the NPC, relieving the Ministers of this responsibility. Afterall, the Cabinet cannot independently check the papers submitted to it for suitability of the item or whether correct procedures have been followed in selecting the successful bidder or not but have to depend on the recommendations of the CAPC.
On the other hand, if this responsibility is given to the NPC, it can independently verify whether the correct selection has been made after proper evaluation following the published procurement guidelines or not. Where necessary, NPC could co-opt outside experts for this purpose. However, one pre-requisite that needs to be followed is to have officers of the highest integrity to undertake such work.
Seeking cabinet approval may be limited to cases of large national scale developmental projects as well as on policy issues pertaining to procurements rather than granting approval for routine construction work. The Cabinet has no capability to verify whether the estimated costs are correct or not. It is best to leave it to the NPC.
Though the functions assigned to the NPC include monitoring and reporting to the appropriate authorities whether proper procedures have been followed in the procurement process undertaken by public sector organizations or not, the NPC has not been exercising this function adequately, probably due to want of commitment or lack of understanding of its functions by the Commission members. Hence, there is a need to have a more committed set of Commission members to make the NPC more effective rather than disbanding it.
In the event the 19th Amendment to the Constitution is repealed while introducing the 20th Amendment, it is still worth retaining the NPC by passing a separate Act of Parliament with more powers assigned to it. The NPC should be given powers to examine procurement processes undertaken by public sector organizations on its own initiative and to grant approval for high-value tenders, in addition to its current functions including monitoring.
Disturbing Sinharaja’s natural balance: a layperson’s viewpoint
by Gnana Moonesinghe
This is written as a tribute to my friend Dr Upen de Zylva who passed away a few days ago and who throughout his life had an abiding interest in nature – in all things related to flora and fauna. He was greatly disturbed by the human invasion into the natural habitat of heritage sites such as the Sinharaja forest reserve.
There have lately been several references to elephant attacks and those of other wild animals such as packs of wild fox on villagers as well as the unpredictable climate changes making life difficult in the rural countryside. In long gone times, though within the recall of older people, nature played out her course unhampered by human interference.
The recent revival of interest in eco balance in Sri Lanka arose as a consequence of the government’s move to construct a road through the Sinharaja Forest Reserve. Back in 2013 the then Government began to construct a road inside the protected area. This was short lived consequent to legal action by the Centre for Environmental and Nature Protection. However, in August 2020 the project was recommenced by the newly installed government and the construction assigned to the military. Environmentalists and lay people are greatly disturbed by this project which entails the movement of heavy machinery and the felling of trees within the Reserve for construction of the road which would both disturb the environment.
The unique position of the Sinharaja is that UNESCO has declared it to be the ‘last viable primary rain forest’ here while it is also referred to as the ‘icon of biodiversity conservation’ in Sri Lanka. The Sinharaja forest is located in the south west in the district of Sabaragamuwa and the Southern Province. Around 60% of the trees found here are endemic and many of them are considered rare. Many species of wildlife is endemic to this place. It gains its unique position among forest reserves as it is home to over half of Sri Lanka’s endemic species of mammals and butterflies and many kinds of insects, reptiles and amphibians. Many endangered and rare species are found here including leopard, Indian elephant, endemic purple faced langur, wood pigeon, green billed coucal, SL white headed starling, SL blue magpie, ash headed baller and SL’s broad billed roller.
It is essential that encroachment of the forest for cultivation like tea plantations, settlements and disturbance to the environment due to road construction should not be permitted because it will affect its unique situation as a forest reserve. Does not this Reserve require protection from the authorities in order to secure its bio diversity?
At present, the consternation is over the road construction from Lankagama to Neluwa, expected to be completed in 90 days without ‘harming the environment.’ Is this a realistic expectation? Experts claim that there is no way that this road can be constructed without disturbing much of the environment in the reserve. That it is necessary to preserve the biodiversity in the reserve for healthy development and for dealing with climate change is a given and beyond question. The government should consider alternatives to help those living on the fringe of the reserve without affecting its balance which benefits the entire region as well as the rest of the world. Is it possible or feasible to seek alternatives to support the villages already in the Reserve?
These issues are raised not on a confrontational note but to elicit information on what is considered a matter of great concern to the mass of people living in this country (and planet) for reasons I hope have been convincingly presented above. May the Right to Information Act be invoked to the maximum to elicit information on this invasive action that is popularly considered a disturbance to the peace of the Reserve.
We expect no less than a frank response from this popularly elected government which will clear the air between the UNESCO authorities and the Lankan government as well as respond to the numerous rumors that are circulating at the moment. An urgent response from the Presidential Secretariat is in order.
National Skills Passport spurs long term skills planning
– A gateway to find suitable jobs, the newly launched National Skills Passport facilitates easier matching of skills for future employment while promoting Sri Lanka as a skills destination.
By Randima Attygalle
A project between the Tertiary and Vocational Education Commission (TVEC) and the Employers’ Federation of Ceylon (EFC) supported by the International Labour Organization (ILO) Colombo Office, the ‘National Skills Passport’ (NSP) was launched recently. It is a new and a progressive concept introduced locally by means of a smart card (similar to a passport) issued to a skilled person having NVQ (The National Vocational Qualifications) along with at least one year of confirmed related employment experience.
The card is connected to a dedicated online portal (www.nsp.gov.lk ) which links up multiple stakeholders including employees, employers, qualification body and labour market intermediaries by collating the passport holder’s skills, expertise and experience. The NSP is expected to serve a long standing issue of recognition of skilled workmanship with certified experience through a central web-based online database. The NSP smart card carries a QR code for convenient search online.
Essentially a ‘gateway’ to find suitable jobs, accessing reskilling and upskilling opportunities locally and internationally, NSP is an extension of the NVQ qualification awarded by NAITA, (National Apprentice and Industrial Training Authority) says the Director General (Actg.), TVEC, Ministry of Skills Development, Employment and Labour Relations, Janaka Jayalath.
“Those who are already holding NVQ, returning migrants and those who have been serving various industries with no formal paper qualifications can reap benefits of the NSP. Those seeking what is known as the ‘mature candidate route’ (people with ten or more years of work/industry experience without formal qualification) can also access NSP,” explains Jayalath.
While candidates who are already equipped with NVQ, irrespective of the level of NVQ can directly apply for NSP, other categories are required to first obtain NVQ through Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) pathway.
“A candidate can apply to obtain relevant NVQ from a basket of around 500 National Competency Standards (NCS) packages listed in the TVEC website (www.tvec.gov.lk) and we are currently working towards introducing NCS for traditional Sri Lankan industries which do not fall within this basket as means of giving more muscle to the rural economy by recognizing the traditional Sri Lankan skills,” he notes.
A ‘virtual document’ which records the knowledge, skills and attitudes of a worker through the TVEC’s online portal (www.nsp.gov.lk) , the system enables the job seekers to create a comprehensive portfolio of skills and qualifications, along with their references and experience, ensuring compatibility with various skills assessment frameworks. It also serves the purpose of creating an online standard CV which is a more detailed synopsis than a normal resume giving clear, concise and up-to-date information with current employment and educational information. The CV system in the NSP is benchmarked with the ‘Euro Pass’, an online CV tool for EU countries. The local initiative of the NSP is a trendsetter in the region which we can take pride in.
Recognizing the informally acquired knowledge, skills and competencies, the NSP also becomes a catalyst in helping the retuning migrants to reintegrate themselves to the local work force. The returning migrants, as Jayalath explains, can seek recognition of their prior learning and obtain NVQ through NAITA which is the prerequisite for NSP.
“The NSP is a vehicle to serve the needs of migrant returnee jobseekers such as construction workers, auto-mechanics, beauticians, cooks etc. This initiative will also help attract migrant returnee workers to industries such as construction, which are currently facing a high demand, with inadequate local workers to bridge the gap.”
Other categories of migrant workers such as automobile mechanics who wish to start their own small/micro enterprises can also benefit by NSP as valid proof of their competencies and thereby help obtain bank loans and build credibility among the customers. Self-employed persons in different skill related occupations can prove their qualifications and experience by producing this smart card and employers or the service recipients could verify those competencies through this system.
The NSP also spares the employers of the hassle of searching for a talent pool with certified skills and authenticated experience which in turn saves the time and cost spent on recruitment. Moreover, it unlocks access to workers with international exposure as well. “Employers could eventually identify the up-skilling and re-skilling requirements of an employee which will help career progression and also labour mobility,” says Jayalath who notes that TVEC takes the full responsibility for the candidates registered with them via the NSP.
The initiative also supports the Government’s long-term skills planning for the economy and facilitates easier matching of skills base for future employment creation. The system also supports to track the employability of the NVQ holders with up-to-date database. In a move to create awareness at community level on the new initiative, TVEC has galvanized its network of Skills Development Assistants, regional industrial forums and District Coordinating Committees (DCC) at District Secretariats.
The ‘skills passport’ which is a concept proposed by the Employers’ Federation of Ceylon (EFC), is an important means to empower all Lankans irrespective of whether they work locally or overseas says the EFC’s Director General, Kanishka Weerasinghe. “The EFC will firmly support state policies implemented through the Ministries of Education and Skills Development and the relevant institutions that function thereunder in order to establish and sustain the National Skills Database. This will finally enable us to promote our country as a skills destination, doing justice to our people and their status as being highly literate and educated. In fact, the ultimate common objective is to ensure that every citizen entering the workforce, at least by 2035, to be certified in their skills and be registered in the database.”
Aside from establishing a reliable means of understanding and addressing the relentless issues relating to dearth of skills, the country could focus on aligning the domestic education policies to create more opportunities in ‘growth industries’ to spur the economy including those which are nationally important such as agriculture, Weerasinghe further says. “It is hoped that certification of skills including the recognition of prior learning will be a boon to workers of all ages, particularly to young job seekers. Similarly, we hope that the ‘mutual recognition’ aspect of the ‘skills passport’ will also enable our people to be recognized in their skills when they seek overseas employment and ensure that they are placed to obtain better status and terms by their overseas employers.”
The EFC’s DG goes on to note that as responsible employers they are mindful of the schemes that link skills to wages, which will also lead to sustainable outcomes for employers such as availability of skilled employees locally and be a solution to issues such as those associated with low productivity. Moreover, standardization of education in terms of NVQ will be a win-win to those aspiring to enter the workforce as well as educational institutions, maintains Weerasinghe.
Remarking that developing people’s skills is a core area of ILOs work, the ILO Country Director for Sri Lanka and the Maldives, Simrin Singh notes, “Skills Passport is an innovative endeavour to not only develop but to recognize people’s skills. The ILO is delighted to have supported the development of the Skills Passport from the very onset; now fully owned and driven by local employers and government constituents”.
The first-ever National Skills Passport (NSP) programme in the plantations industry was initiated by the Hayleys Plantations Sector, setting a new benchmark for human resource development. Hundred field officers representing Talawakelle Tea Estates (TTEL), Kelani Valley Plantations (KVPL) and Horana Plantations (HPL) were selected for the National Vocational Qualification (NVQ) which is the gateway to the NSP.
“When skills development is combined with technology, we are able to create powerful new opportunities. As an organization that has won global acclaim for our efforts to raise the quality of living for our employees, Hayleys Plantations is proud to have been the first to support our employees in joining a digitally empowered workforce and helping innovate new solutions to resolve long-standing challenges in our industry and the national economy as a whole,” Managing Director of Hayleys Plantations, Dr. Roshan Rajadurai says.
Field officers selected for the scheme possess a minimum of one year of experience in the field and are evaluated by NAITA for both theoretical and practical aspects in preliminary and final evaluation rounds. Once the evaluation process is complete, the respective staff member is issued a digital Skills Passport, which is a smart card with a QR code facilitating the convenient search of their skills online.
“By producing field officers with NVQ qualifications, which is strengthened by them being awarded the first-ever Skills Passports, our innovative training and development drive recognized by several global and HR platforms is given more muscle,” HR and Corporate Sustainability General Manager of Kelani Valley Plantations, Anuruddha Gamage remarks.
Vesak Sirisara – Buddhist Annual 2564/2020
The first article in this annual is by Ven Siri Vajiraramaye Nanasiha Thera on ‘Taming the Animal Within’. He cites the Buddha in a sermon directed at a misbehaving monk when he compares unrestrained behaviour in man to six untamed animals and very effectively and succinctly points out that man’s six senses, if allowed to run unchecked, will surely cause untold damage to the man himself and to society in general. One of the strongest senses in a human, akin to animal instincts, is the sexual urge. It is necessary to gratify it for procreation and judiciously, but not by any means in an unrestrained manner. Of the six senses, the most difficult to hold in check is the mental faculty, identified by the Buddha as the forerunner of all good and evil.
K H J Wijedasa’s
‘Buddha Dhamma and Human Health’ is particularly apt in this time of raging infection. The article starts thus: “Even though the fundamental objective of Buddha Dhamma is to proclaim to humanity the way to release from the woes of Samsara, Buddha’s teachings include a multitude of guidelines that enable them to lead their mundane lives….”
Buddha declared “Arogya Parama Labha” and in its context guidelines for the preservation of environmental, physical and mental health were laid down, which are effective even at present. He enunciated ways to good health to those living monastic lives and to lay persons. The writer deals in detail on advice in the Buddha Dhamma on environmental health and physical and mental health of man. He mentions the benefit and power of meditation and ends with Kisa Gotami and how Buddha was a kind and concerned psychiatrist to her.
The other erudite articles you can choose from are:
‘Nature of Arahath’ by Prof N A de S Amaratunge; ‘Living the Dhamma’ by Asoka Jayasinghe; W A S Perera’s exposition of the Dhammachakkappvattana Sutta including a short biography of Kondanna Thera. More pragmatic are: ‘The importance of practicing generosity’ by Ven Ayagama Suseela Thera; ‘Be your own guru’ by Dr Susunage Weerapperuma; ‘The social service concept in Buddhist texts’ by Dr Leel Gunasaekera; and ‘Living the Dhamma’ by Asoka Mahinda Jayasinha. ‘Material phenomena and the mind’ by Dr Mass R Usuf; and ‘Pattica Samuppaada’ by Palitha Manchanayake are more in-depth studies of profound subject areas. Dr Usuf also contributed the concluding poem, which begins and ends with the cryptic:
“I know not …who am I!”
Chandra Wickramasinghe poetically explains the passing away of earthly glory headed by a Latin dictum: ‘Transit Gloria Mundi’ in which he poetically describes a cremation with flowers strewn from above. The inherent message is that all is unsubstantial; all end in death. This poem is somewhat different to most of Chandra’s poems with their allusions to the ancient classics and encapsulation of much into single words and phrases. The language here is simple.
Claudia Weeraperuma deals with Samatha –Tranquility in her poem.
Thus is seen the range of topics dealt with; and the balance of philosophical or esoteric in thought provoking articles along with the practical: translating Buddha’s advice on good lives and living graciously, striving to shorten samsaric existence.
Vesak Sirisara/ Buddhist Annual 2020 is in its 64th year of publication and free distribution, by the Government Services Buddhist Association whose current Editor is Neville Piyadigama; Assistant editor P Weerahandi. It is very commendable that a prestigious journal such as the Vesak Sirisara has continued its publication through the years with invaluable articles on Buddhism, by well known persons. This edition is dedicated to the memory of late Ven Dr K Sri Dhammananda Nayake Maha Thera of Malaysia.
The tranquility inducing beautiful cover design in soft shades of beige against a darker background is by Deepal Jayawardena who writes that it is a Ghandara statue of the first century BC; where the head of the Buddha shows Greek influence. The back cover carries a clear picture of the Dewanagala Raja Maha Viharaya in Mawanella.
N P Wanasundera
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