Gardaí in raids to fight cartel rigging of bus routes bids rigged by cartels
Garda have confirmed a number of raids have taken place in a bid to crack down on the "bid rigging" of school buses.
Private-bus cartels who may have colluded to form cartels to rig their bids when tendering for school transport have come under scrutiny from gardaí and officials from the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC).
"Bid rigging" could be costing taxpayers hundreds of thousands of euro.
Now, gardai are offering immunity-from-prosecution deals to individuals who come forward with information on cartel activity.
"Bid rigging in public procurement can be particularly harmful as it can artificially increase prices and ultimately costs taxpayers more," said commission chairperson Isolde Goggin yesterday.
Bus Éireann gets €150m in taxpayers' money each year to run the school transport scheme for the Department of Education.
It operates 500 buses for school transport, but the State company also pays private operators for school bus services on hundreds of other school routes.
The CCPC confirmed yesterday it is investigating potential bid-rigging in the procurement of publicly funded transport services in parts of Munster and Leinster.
The CCPC opened an investigation last year following a detailed examination of a complaint.
In July, the commission undertook 20 searches of private bus companies in Tipperary, Waterford, Limerick and Kilkenny.
Officers from the commission and gardaí, including a detective sergeant from the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau, carried out the searches.
The investigation is ongoing.
"We encourage any individual who has evidence to come forward and contact a dedicated confidential helpline on 086 677 2062," a spokesman for the commission said.
The Cartel Immunity Programme, operated by the commission with the Director of Public Prosecutions, promises that a member of a cartel may avoid prosecution "if they are the first member to come forward".
It is also on condition that they "reveal their involvement in illegal cartel activity and fully co-operate with the investigation".
It is feared bid rigging may have taken place on more than 50 school routes.