Préfet Vincent Berton (left) and President of the Collectivité Louis Mussington at the press conference on Tuesday. (Robert Luckock photo)
MARIGOT--Préfet Vincent Berton convened a press conference Tuesday to announce the installation of a Public Order Observatory (Observatoire de la Commande Publique) following a meeting with members of the local public works association Bâtiment et Travaux Publics (BTP).
At the beginning of August BTP warned St. Martin local companies were in danger of going out of business and disappearing altogether unless they can obtain sufficient work and fair competition in the bidding processes for contracts.
BTP, which has recently been re-structured, raised the alarm on a situation that has been going downhill since Hurricane Irma and then made worse by the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. It said local companies fully deserve to play their part in the economy and development of the territory.
One of BTP’s main grievances is that when a major job is presented as a “big package”, local companies don’t find themselves qualified as they do not have a high-enough annual turnover and therefore are eliminated from the start. They say the tendering process favours big multi-national companies and not local companies.
“This is an important moment, because there is a need for public procurement to benefit the St. Martin economy,” said Berton. “This observatory will be a place for exchange and debate with the various players.”
Entities that award public contracts will have to ensure that contracts are divided into distinct lots to facilitate access for smaller companies that cannot respond to the large lots. Préfet Berton pointed out that companies must be better equipped and organised to put together solid dossiers, as the stakes are high with major construction projects to be launched in the coming months; for example, the State’s administrative and judicial building due to start in 2023, colleges, media library, clinics, etc.
The Collectivité and Préfecture have also undertaken to publish on their websites the calendar of upcoming public contracts.
“This will allow them to better anticipate, particularly in relation to banks or in terms of manpower,” added President of the Collectivité Louis Mussington. “We have to build this country with local people. We do not reject those who come from outside, but they must be complementary.”
Mussington said the Collectivité and Préfecture have a “moral obligation” to assist local companies to provide them with as much information as possible.
“Information published will give local contractors time to structure their companies in a way that they can respond to the bidding,” he said. “The more local persons we can employ the better it is to reduce the level of delinquency in the country and for families to improve their social situations.”
Training is another important consideration that will be available through public funds. Meetings will now be held with training partners to start programmes as soon as possible.
“The objective is to have the manpower ready when these major projects such as College 900, College 600, the media library, etc., are ready to start,” Mussington added.
In the longer term, Mussington reiterated his wish to modify the organic law by adapting the Public Procurement Code to the territory. He also pledged to invest the necessary financial resources to refurbish the vocational school’s apprenticeship workshop.