The newspapers continue to find issues with a government procurement system that still has to deal with bid rigging.
I have said for years that municipal procurement needs to have more checks and balances in the system to stop the many ways to rig a bid.
The system is getting so far away from being fair, open and transparent and is becoming an old boys club. I have seen firsthand and listened to all the excuses by municipal procurement managers why and how these things happen.
They are always telling the contractors they will do better next time and never correcting the system to stop corruption.
Every time another issue happens at a municipality the public is just told that some changes need to be made to correct a system that has not been updated for some years.
Then a report is sent to council explaining that "someone" will look into what happened and the proper procedures and policies will be put in place to stop this from happening again.
First of all, you need someone that knows how the system is rigged before you can take measures to fix the problem. The fact is that government procurement has so many holes in it that plugging one will just drive dishonest bidders to use a different method of taking advantage of a broken system.
I don’t like to complain about government procurement, however, working with so many contractors over the years and having to listen to all the stories when I represent them at municipal debriefs I can’t help but be disappointed with the lack of understanding municipal buyers have.
Part of the problem is with training and the other part is to do with no real checks and balances in the system. By this I mean the way RFPs are evaluated and the knowledge of people doing the evaluation process. I encourage all contractors to ask for and attend debriefs.
As a contractor, you need to find out why the municipality did not award you the contract and then fix the mistakes for the next bid. Not asking what you did to fall short of winning will just cause you to continue to make the same mistakes over and over again.
Should you go to a debrief and get some answers that don’t make any sense from the buyers, escalate it the next level to point out your case. I recommend you go to council should you be stonewalled by the purchasing department.
The only way this system can be fixed is by shining a light on every issue until government is forced to take this matter of bid rigging and make it the number one priority.
To be fair, we have many very good municipalities in Ontario and Canada that do a great job of correcting issues such as bid rigging.
The problems for the continued offenders that are in the paper all the time do very little to truly investigate how and why they are always off side with the procurement process.
I personally have been a purchasing manager for a large municipality and I have spent the last 15 years working with contractors and associations, unions and subcontractors.
It is not hard for me to see how the system can be played from both sides.
I will tell you for a fact that these types of issues can be fixed if you know what you are looking for and have a municipality willing to make changes to correct the problem areas.
At this point we all need to work together to fix a broken system.
When contractors feel that they are not being treated fairly they stop bidding for that municipality. This means fewer bids and higher prices.
Stephen Bauld is a government procurement expert and can be reached at email@example.com.
Some of his columns may contain excerpts from The Municipal Procurement Handbook published by Butterworths.