IT WOULD BE very interesting to find out whether public tenders in other countries turn into farce as frequently as they do in Cyprus. There is rarely a tender for a public project that goes smoothly and is awarded without it being referred to the Tenders’ Review Authority or becoming the subject of an appeal in the courts. This might be good business for the lawyers, but it is not the best advertisement for the state which is exposed as incapable of carrying out a procedure that cannot be challenged often successfully in the courts.
There are also some companies that appeal simply because they lost out and want to cause delays to the winner of a contract. The only costs for this negative action are the legal fees as there is no penalty for wasting the state’s time and delaying the awarding of the contract by a year or two. Funnily enough, no attempt has been made by any government to deal with this issue, such as a hefty deposit that would be lost if an appeal is unsuccessful. Nor have the civil servants that mess up the tender specifications, by accident or design, ever been disciplined.
The latest example of this dysfunction will be played out at the administrative court next week, when the company that lost out in the tender for the Nicosia buses – Osel which currently has the contracts – will seek a court order stopping the government from awarding the contract for 2020 to 2030 to the lowest bidder, Malta Lines-Kapnos Air Shuttle consortium. Osel’s lawyers are claiming the consortium’s bid should have been declared null and void because it violated key conditions of procedure. Another argument for supporting the injunction was that by awarding the contract to the consortium, Osel’s shareholders and employees will suffer irreparable damage, as if this was the state’s concern.
The consortium has won another three tenders for the same period but these could also be subject to injunctions. The court will issue a decision after hearing the arguments of the state and if it issues an injunction the whole procedure will be derailed. The contracts had to be signed by the end of this year so that the contractor would be able to plan the start of operations in July 2020. But if contracts are not signed this month, and the court hearing is scheduled for March or April, there will be no time for the new contractors to prepare to take over the bus routes; they will not invest in buses and hire drivers when there is a court case pending.
It is another fine mess our government has got into because no attempt has ever been made to close the holes that allow companies to cause chaos to tenders’ procedures.