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Lawyer argues for more ethical government procurement practices
Published: 
Tuesday, October 11, 2016
Margaret Rose-Goddard, corporate lawyer specialising in public procurement law.

Will the new connectivity people now have, through the internet and other technologies, eventually revolutionise human consciousness?  Is there really justice in T&T if white collar criminals are never prosecuted? Can we innovate our way into creating more of our own technology? Is the whole world’s economic system rigged? Can we totally abolish money one day? Are all conceptions of race really quite pointless? 

These and many other ideas and questions were raised at the annual TEDx talk event held last Thursday (October 6) at Queen’s Hall, Port-of-Spain, where 11 speakers shared innovative ideas from their lives and realisations from their research and work across some very different disciplines. From law to photography to medical research and psychological transformation techniques, guests received varied food for thought.

In this the sixth year of the event, the speakers were: Diana Mahabir-Wyatt, Margaret Rose-Goddard, Arvinda Rampersad, Kwame Ryan, Maria Nunes, Earl Boodoo, Keith Nurse, Elizabeth Solomon, Kheston Walkins, Akosua Dardaine Edwards, and Jolynna Sinanan.

Corporate lawyer Margaret Rose-Goddard came out strong with her impassioned plea for more enlightened, aware use of governmental purchasing power. Rose-Goddard is an anti-corruption advocate who specialises in public procurement law. Her public interest law firm, Rose Law Caribbean, is the first virtual law firm in the Caribbean.

Her latest initiative, the Procurement Innovation & Leadership Lab (UK), specializes in social and sustainable procurement and impact purchasing, supporting governments, corporations and NGOs to maximise the social value of every dollar spent.

In her presentation, she reminded us that there are more people enslaved today than at any other time in history—some 48.5 million people are enslaved making the products, the food, and the clothes that we buy, she said.

 “We use the power of purchasing unconsciously,” she said, often not aware of the social, environmental and other costs of what we choose to buy. To better leverage the power of collective buying, which can be hard to do and take a long time, she suggested that we start with our own government purchasing policies.

She noted government exercises its buying power in two ways: as a market regulator and as a market player. An example of the former is when the UK last year put a five pence charge on plastic bags—resulting in the plummeting by 87 per cent of plastic bag purchases there, or some six billion bags. 

She noted that trillions of dollars are spent annually on public procurement—and asked how have governments been using that money. 

She said there was a serious epidemic of land grabbing taking place globally, including 7,200 World Bank financed projects between 2004-2013 which led to forcible eviction and displacement of millions of people across Asia, Africa and South America.

“Something is fundamentally wrong with the way our governments are buying. .... And the dominant narrative, the explanation that is given to us for this, is: political systems are weak and unstable, (there is) poor governance, corruption...This is why these countries are not able to meet the needs of their citizens. You also hear the resource curse.....”

But, she said, she believes this is a false narrative, because the global economic system that we have created “did not happen by chance, it was not an accident, it did not evolve organically, and there is no genetic reason for poverty.”

She said the rules of the system are meticulously crafted to govern who owns what, how that gets exchanged, and who has access to what, saying that there is an agenda that “the market knows best.” But this approach is not fair to developing countries, who, if they open up their markets, find their local suppliers do not have the capacity to compete, she said.

“Not one industrial nation today got there by open competitive procurement. In fact, every single industrial nation carefully circumscribed its imports, placed tariffs, and carefully protected its industries, and let’s not even mention ... slavery and colonialism. It’s just not fair. And that’s why ....they’re kicking away the ladder, the same ladder the industrial nations climbed up to get rich, they’re kicking it away,”  she said.

The price that we are paying for our goods is not the real price, she said, because it ignores the human, social and environmental costs, which suppliers do not include.

So how can we get out of this? She said we should redefine procurement to include the real human, social and environmental cost of goods and services we buy. She said procurement should not be just about price and quality of goods, but also about the process of how we obtain best value. 

“We need to put humanity back into the equation. Because we are creating a world that is full of stuff of economic value, but not things that have real value,” said Rose-Goddard

She called for a reframing of good public procurement law, with real attention paid to justice, equity, democracy, and human rights being put back into the buying process.

What is TEDx?
TED—for Technology, Entertainment, Design—are global conferences run by the private nonprofit organisation Sapling Foundation, under the slogan “Ideas worth spreading.” The TED format gives each speaker 18 minutes to present their ideas in the most engaging way they can.

Conceived in February 1984 by architect and graphic designer Richard Saul Wurman, the annual conference series began in 1990 inspired at first by the technology and design of Silicon Valley, but soon broadened its focus to include talks on many scientific, cultural and academic topics.

The main TED conference today is held annually in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada at the Vancouver Convention Centre, with its companion conference TEDactive  in Whistler, BC. Before 2014, the talks were held in California. TED events are also held throughout the world.

The cost for one person to attend the 2017 TED talk on April 24-28, 2017, is US$17,000.

TEDx are independent TED-like events, which can be organized by anyone who obtains a free license from TED. They are nonprofit, but may use an admission fee or commercial sponsorship to cover costs, and speakers are not paid. TEDxPortofSpain is hosted by Demming Communications, and 868Change in collaboration with Village Seed Solutions.

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