2011-06-03 / Top Stories

Liu Calls For Fairer Rules For MWBE

By Miriam Rosenberg

City Comptroller John Liu answers questions from local business owners during a meeting in Far Rockaway on April 29. City Comptroller John Liu answers questions from local business owners during a meeting in Far Rockaway on April 29. Suggesting what he considers needed changes to the law that promotes city government contracting opportunities for businesses owned by minorities and women, the comptroller of New York City addressed a meeting of a small group of local business owners and community leaders.

At the invitation of the Rockaway Development and Revitalization Corporation, Comptroller John Liu came to Far Rockaway as part of a tour of southeast Queens to discuss small business opportunities, including certifications for minority and women owned business.

According to the comptroller, despite a law passed in 2005 promoting increased hiring of minority and women owned businesses by the city, such companies still receive only a tiny percentage of city contracts.

“When I was in the City Council we passed what is called Local Law 129 … which puts in place goals by [my] agency to address long standing disparities – disparities between availability and the presence of minority and women owned businesses versus all the businesses that are out there doing the same line of work,” said Liu.

Last year Liu’s office set out to determine the exact number of minority and women owned businesses that were getting city contracts. “The sum total is 2.4 percent of almost $18 billion to private businesses by the city of New York,” said Liu.

He added, “I’m saying we have a problem in the city of New York, and 2.4 percent is a problem. My office is coming up with changes in the rules; the procurement rules as well as some of the administrative practices that will get rid of some of these historic [values].”

Before he can encourage a business owner to become certified as a MWBE (Minority- and Women- Owned Business Enterprise), Liu says the city needs to make changes.

“I’m putting the onus on the city first and foremost,” said Liu. “Clean up those age old practices that don’t make sense anymore, that only perpetuate the same old, the same big companies getting everything while keeping everybody else out and are a disservice to the taxpayers of New York.”

Liu is also calling for certification paperwork to be streamlined.

“I don’t believe all the questions are necessary [to show] that you’re a minority entrepreneur or a woman entrepreneur … [I don’t think] the history and level of detail required contributes to the process.”

He also questioned why a business needs to be certified with the state and other government agencies and still needs to go through a separate certification with the city.

“The city has to recognize what a bad position we’re in right now and we’ve got to make changes to these rules to open up the process to give everybody a [chance],” explained Liu. “Now beyond that I would then encourage people to go through the certification process.

But we first, as a city, have to give people some idea that when they go through that painful process, when they invest their time and money into going through that process that there’s some reasonable chance that they will actually compete fairly for the city’s business.”

With the law as it is, Liu said the incentive to go through the certification process for a chance to get some of the 2.4 percent of the billions of city contracts that go to private businesses “is not strong enough …. And even if you go through all that paperwork the cards are going to be stacked well against you anyway.”

Councilman James Sanders Jr., who had a big part in getting Local Law 129 passed, was also at the meeting and agreed with Liu’s assessment.

“Local Law 129, it did not work,” said Sanders. “It has been a disaster.”

Sanders said that the comptroller’s report on the law “has provided the mayor with a chance [to get it right].”

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