HAS THERE ever been a procedure for public tenders, which has not been declared null and void, at least once, either by the Tenders Review Board or the Supreme Court? If there has been it must the exception that proves the rule or it could have related to a small value contract that did not justify incurring high legal costs. Procedures for big contracts, however, almost never go smoothly and legal battles ensue.
There are several reasons for this. Legal costs are relatively low – the Supreme Court does not ask for a big deposit that would be lost if the appeal failed – so that a losing bidder does not think twice about taking legal action. If for nothing else, the successful bidder could be inconvenienced and in some cases – when a new procedure is held – lose the contract. In short a losing bidder has very little to lose by throwing a spanner in the works. In the past, the Tenders Review Board was made up of political party appointees to whom bidders had access either directly or through their party. A party donation may have persuaded a Board member to take a decision favouring the donor.
Then there are the technocrats that draft the tenders’ specifications. In some cases, the specs are drafted in a way that favours a specific bidder, which was what happened in the case of Helector, the waste management company that landed the super-lucrative Koshi landfill contract. In other cases, the specs are so complex that a smart lawyer would have no trouble finding a spec that was ‘violated’ during the procedure and appeal.
Public tenders have become something of a joke, with appeals and legal wrangling having become an integral part of the procedure. So much so, that the government should start factoring in the legal delays when scheduling public projects – put back the starting date by two years to allow for the legal wrangling to be completed and a new procedure to be held. Back in the nineties, one of the reasons computers were not introduced in the state sector was because by the time the procedure was completed, three years later, the PCs for which offers had been requested, had become obsolete.
We witnessed this joke with the football fan ID card which was meant to have been introduced at the start of the current football season. The justice minister who had announced its introduction, from this season, was obviously very optimistic, considering the scheme would have been contracted to a private firm. Inevitably, the losing bidder appealed against the decision of the Cyprus Sports Organisation (Koa), and the Tenders Review Board upheld the appeal, declaring the procedure null and void. It seems that if the state does not want anything to happen it should put it out to tender.