The Coast Guard’s purchase of 18 vans that were too heavy to carry a full crew and its equipment at the same time has been criticised by the state's spending watchdog.
The Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG) criticised the €1.4m purchase in an audit today, raising concerns about procurement procedures and whether the vans represented value for money.
It comes after Independent.ie highlighted how rescuers were critical of the vans because weight limits restricted the number of personnel or equipment they can carry.
Officials bought the 18 Ford Transit-type vans before adapting them to cater for the unique specifications its climbing units need.
However, by the time the fitting was completed each van was too close to the maximum capacity weight to carry all crew members and equipment.
The C&AG said an examination of the purchase showed concerning gaps in the Department’s records.
"It is consequently unacceptable that there are major gaps in the Department’s records in relation to the tendering process, and particularly in relation to the evaluation of bids. It is not known whether this is because the required evaluation was never properly done, or because records created were subsequently mislaid or destroyed," the C&AG report said.
A C&AG audit found a tender for the purchase was advertised with an estimated contract value of €160,000, for a minimum of four vehicles.
"The outturn was the purchase of 18 vehicles at a cost of around €1.4 million. Only two firms submitted tenders. It is likely that the understatement of the contract value discouraged prospective tenderers and served to limit the extent of competition for the business," the C&AG report said.
The C&AG also found that a contract award notice was not published on the eTenders website as is required under public procurement guidelines.
"Despite the size of the Coast Guard vehicle fleet — about 230 vehicles in all — and the operational importance of the fleet for the provision of the service, a strategic plan for the improvement, management and maintenance of the fleet has not been developed," it said.
"There was no evidence that the views and advice of the expected users of the vehicles — in this case, the members of the cliff rescue teams — were sought in advance of contracting for the supply of new vehicles.
"After the contract had been signed, the Coast Guard convened a technical advisory group to assess the vehicles contracted for and to advise on their fit out. Therefore, the group’s technical expertise was not used in the evaluation of tenders received."
The Coast Guard has previously said it has put the vans to use elsewhere in its fleet. Coast Guard procurement process have also since been reviewed.