The forestry department has broken the law in the way in which it acquired firefighting helicopters, the auditor general said in his report on Wednesday.

The service called on the agriculture minister to establish an independent committee to examine the case, as one of the members on the tenders review authority, said there are “major deficiencies” surrounding the helicopters that were finally chosen and has filed a report to police chief.

The member has also called on the attorney-general to investigate the possibility of criminal or disciplinary offences, as well as the audit service to examine the procedures which were followed.

The audit service noted the report is incomplete because many of the documents required that it asked for were apparently returned to the owners of the helicopters even though copies should have been kept.

According to the report, the requirements specified in the tender process appeared to paint a very specific picture that guided the selection from which company the helicopters would be obtained.

The report also revealed that as the tender process was ongoing, the estimate of the cost was changed – something the procuring authority, tenders review authority and public procurement authority was aware of. “This is unacceptable, illegal and goes against every principle that public contracts should have.”

Even though the equipment is essential for the country, this is no excuse to bypass legislation, the report outlined.

For instance where two helicopters were to be used by leasing for the summer period for 2022 and 2023 as well as the possibility to extend until 2025, the results of the tender were not published.

The law requires the results of the tender process to be published for transparency reasons but also to allow other contenders to appeal the decision if they wish.

Additionally the presence of members of the public procurement authority during the tenders review authority meeting and decision-making process was illegal, the report says. “They played a key role as they guided the tenders’ board,” however they only had observer status.