Cabinet ministers said last week that they fully supported the government’s process for bidding on public contracts, while acknowledging that process could mean some delays in getting those works done.
At least three complaints have been filed in recent months over various government contracts by firms that bid a lower price for the job, but that were not successful in winning the contract. The Office of the Complaints Commissioner was asked to look into those claims.
‘It seems that no one is ever satisfied with whatever the process is,’ Education Minister Alden McLaughlin said, adding his concern about delays since contracts for government schools represent some of the largest upcoming projects.
Mr. McLaughlin said the government has insisted that all contracts of at least $250,000 in value are vetted through the Central Tenders Committee. That amount was recently raised from a $100,000 project limit.
‘(Awarding all contracts through CTC) is something which hitherto has not always happened,’ he said.
The idea is to avoid the appearance of impropriety in awarding of high-dollar government deals by having the bid winners chosen by an independent board; although Mr. McLaughlin notes allegations of officials giving contracts to their friends or business associates are sometimes made anyway.
‘One of these days someone’s going to have to prove those sorts of things,’ he said.
Minister McLaughlin also stressed that Complaints Commissioner John Epp has not found irregularities in the awarding of any contracts through the CTC thus far.
Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts described it as a sort of Catch-22 problem for officials in getting public works projects completed.
‘Many times, I’m sure previous governments and this government will be knocking our hands on the table and saying how the process is slow, and how we wish we could get things done faster,’ Mr. Tibbetts said. ‘But the moment you go and you try to do that, you have another problem on your hands because they say you’re hiding things.’
Mr. Tibbetts said it’s more important for people to have confidence in how government handles bids on contracts.
‘We can’t stop people from making what they see (as) legitimate complaints,’ he said. ‘If that includes the Office of the Complaints Commissioner, so be it.’
‘At some point and time it will come to an end and decisions will have to be made and we’ll proceed on. It is one of the difficulties especially in government, because you cannot be seen not to be open in the process.’
Two of the OCC complaints filed last month involved bids for various aspects of the new courts building project. CTC Chairman Terrence Outar said the committee on Friday reviewed the case involving one of the firms that bid about $1 million lower on the architecture and design portion of the deal.
Another complaint was filed earlier this year after the award of an architecture and design contract for the Bodden Town Emergency Response Centre, also by a lower-bidding firm. Complaints Commissioner John Epp ruled that contract was awarded fairly.
‘Those that bid complain that they didn’t get the job, I don’t know what we can do about that,’ Mr. McLaughlin said. ‘The more avenues you have for people to complain — gives people more opportunity to do so.’