The National Solidarity Party finds the controversial purchase of the 26 Brompton bicycles by NParks disturbing on two counts.
Firstly, that public funds was used to purchase bicycles at prices that the average person finds exorbitant. Secondly, that the Minister for National Development finds the purchase acceptable, despite there being only one bidder for the tender, and at such a high price.
It is thus with some relief that we note that the Ministry of National Development (MND) has referred this matter to the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau. Even if the Ministry is now handling this matter in a more appropriate manner, several questions remain unanswered.
According to the MND's Press Release dated 24 July 2012, the Minister had called for an internal audit last month (June). This followed a report on the purchase, in the local media, on 22nd June.
But on July 4th, the Minister had blogged that he had “accepted NParks' explanation” that NParks had no particular brand in mind, that the quotation on the Government website adopted general specifications to ensure that as many dealers as possible could submit bids, as it was considering all brands.
If the Minister had blogged about his acceptance of the purchase after he had called for an internal audit, it could mean that he had arrived at a conclusion even before the results of the audit came out. Was the internal audit affected by the Minister's defence of the purchase? What guidelines, if any, are in place regarding blogging by public officials holding positions of influence, on matters relating to their official duties?
The total cost of purchasing the Brompton foldable bicycles may only be $57,200, but what it has done is cast a shadow on the entire government tendering process, including disclosure of bidding, short GEBIZ window and award of tender. Even if we set aside the issue of corruption, a tendering process that awards the contract to the sole bidder regardless of price is not one that safeguards the prudent use of public funds. How does the government intend to improve the purchasing process?
How the Minister for National Development and the Government respond to these legitimate queries from the general public will help to restore confidence in the fairness of the government tendering process.