New guidelines on public sector procurement

Public sector procurement, the process by which government purchases goods, works and services is an important economic activity in the Cook Islands where the balance needs to be struck between getting value for money for the taxpayer’s dollar and allowing local suppliers to supply to government.

This will become an even more the case over the next two years as the Government pursues a greater investments in the infrastructure area.

Ultimately our public sector procurement processes needs to have integrity where Cook Islanders taxpayers believe that balance is reasonable and that development partners also have faith to use Cook Islands systems instead of their own to ensure that their own tax payers are satisfied that value for money is being achieved with their money.

Public sector procurement in the Cook Islands is a decentralised process.  The responsibility for procurement is predominantly conducted by agencies who are guided by the policies and procedures provided through the Ministry of Finance and Economic Management (MFEM).

A review of the Cook Islands’ public procurement systems was conducted in May 2012, unfortunately it highlighted a number of weaknesses that needed redress. 

In the past two years many of the issues raised in that review have been addressed in a gradual and methodical process.  The major areas addressed include the:

  • the creation of standard procurement templates and contracts which are now available;
  • revision to the government procurement policy which is now implemented and available to the public;
  • development of a central procurement information portal on;
  • development of job description for a procurement officer with in MFEM;
  • continual publication of the capital plan – Budget Book 3 to aid in procurement planning;
  • publication of contracts awarded through the public tender process;
  • training and development on best procurement practices using the CIGFPPM conducted; and
  • annual procurement planning sessions being conducted.

The Cook Islands Procurement Guidelines 

On 2 December MFEM released the Cook Islands Procurement guidelines (CIPG), these form part of the overall Cook Islands Government Financial Policies and Procedures manual which guide agencies with their public financial management responsibilities.

The CIPG consolidate the procurement guidance in one area and incorporate a number of changes to the overall procurement policy framework specifically aiming to ensure more activities go to the market and that local suppliers are aware of those opportunities.  This is obviously balanced by the need to ensure value for money is being achieved and the provision of information relating to the final outcome of the tender process. 

Improved transparency around the procurement process has been a significant issue in the past.  The new procurement portal provides a significant amount of information including all upcoming tenders (as agencies are now required to list on the portal) and the actual outcomes of tenders. 

Additionally a mechanism to manage complaints is a major feature of the new framework.

Thresholds for Procurement

The principles underlying the CIPG have varied from those previously issued to include some variations around contracts and greater clarity is provided around the special circumstances which could see a waiver the tender process. Thresholds still remain are, that any:

  • purchase greater than $30,000 must go to tender; and
  • purchase between $1,000 and $29,999 must provide quotes.

In terms of asset sales, all vehicles and any assets with a value of greater than $500 must go to tender.  If they are valued at under $500 then the agency may advertise it internally.

The procurement portal has now been updated and is live.   It aims to improve access for all suppliers to tender opportunities, procurement policies, Capital and National investment plans and other procurement related activities.

Users can register to get email notifications on current tender and latest bidding opportunities will soon be made available via the site.

All Cook Islands Agencies are now required to publish all tender opportunities on the portal.

Deviations from the Practice

A waiver of the requirements of the Cook Islands Government Procurement policy will only be considered in the following special circumstances, including where:

  • there is an urgent need to proceed with a project in order to protect life or property, for example in the immediate response to a natural disaster (even then there may be a requirement to demonstrate that value for money is being achieved); or
  • there is an urgent need for the project to be carried out due to unforeseen events ; or 
  • no tenders have been received for a particular project; or
  • there is a restriction on trademark goods for example local distributor is the only supplier of a particular brand that is specifically required by the project and the tender committee is satisfied of the case.

A lack of forward planning by agencies is not an acceptable reason for urgency nor will it be considered an ‘exceptional circumstance’ for a particular tender project.

It is hoped that we can encourage a better understanding of the importance of an open and transparent process across the public and private sector.  

The public need to understand where there money goes.  Businesses need to understand what opportunities are available and how to position themselves to ensure that they can compete for this business.

Ultimately, the goal is to maximise the benefit of public sector procurement on the local economy whilst providing value for money for the taxpayer.