The State has no agency overseeing public contracts once they are awarded, the Dáil Committee on Public Accounts (PAC) has been told.
While there have been a number of reviews into the National Children’s Hospital (NCH), with many “learnings,” no authority gathered data on contract performance in the overall, members of the committee heard.
No single body is responsible for assessing contracts once awarded, said Paul Quinn, chief procurement officer with the Office of Government Procurement.
But David Moloney, acting secretary general of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, said there were “a lot of lessons to be learned about the management of bespoke mega-projects” like the NCH, and new proposals for a tightening-up were going to Government.
The PAC was told there were 700 legal issues cropping up around the NCH project, which was awarded on a two-stage basis.
Mr Quinn told Fianna Fail TD Marc MacSharry that litigious parties could not be arbitrarily excluded from tendering for new projects, as they had rights under EU law. They were also entitled to assert their rights before the courts.
Mr MacSharry had asked if the State could use “our own track record and common sense” in assessing bidders, saying he would not re-use a builder who had sued him when previously given a construction job.
He also asked about the use of Davy stockbroker’s for major State contracts involving the National Treasury Management Agency (NTMA) in light of a record €4.1m fine by the Central Bank, but no such stockbroking contracts are part of centralised procurement process, Mr Quinn said.
A problem involving the recall of hand sanitiser provided to schools across the country was a matter for the Department of Education and Skills, he added, while a €14m contract for ventilators that could not subsequently be used was being studied by the Department of Health and the HSE.
On PPE and other equipment, Paul Quinn said things were done “on an emergency basis” last year, invoking the same to bypass drawn-out tendering processes.
“There was an absolutely scramble not only in Ireland but across the world to secure necessary supplies,” he said.
“It is a basic principle of public procurement that competitive tendering should be used, except in justifiably exceptional circumstances for events that are unforeseeable.
“A pandemic is an example of such an unforeseeable event. The justification for no-competitive procurement is a matter for each contracting authority to decide. So for example the health sector .”
Any time non-standard procurement was used for contracts valued over €25,000 it was notified to the Comptroller and Auditor General , he said.
‘We have been very involved since the start of the pandemic in working with the HSE and others in terms of trying to address the issues raised,” Mr Moloney said.
Another mechanism, a ‘negotiated procedure,’ had been used to obtain at short notice the provided of calculated grades for the Leaving Cert last year.
The American provider had then informed the Department of a fault in the system.
Sinn Féin TD Matt Carthy asked if it would be disallowed from tendering again for any new project in this area, but the officials said the power to exclude bidders was very limited and had to be objective and not unreasonable, with any such entity given full legal entitlement to set out its view and any explanation or contention why it should not be denied access to a new competition.