For everyone in public procurement there are two critical lessons to understand. First, learning to conform to the requirements and restrictions imposed on the procurement process under the law of tender; and second, learning the policies and procedures that apply to the municipality you work with.
The seven simple lessons to abide by to be compliant with government procurement are as follows:
Buyers need to acquire at least a working knowledge of the law of tender. They need to be familiar with the different methods of public procurement, the circumstances in which each may be used, the types of product and service that may be used, the types of product and service for which each is suited, and the requirements that must be satisfied in order to avoid the risk of legal proceedings.
Buyers need to be familiar with the kinds of misstep that can lead to liability under the law of tender. Client department staff are unlikely to possess such familiarly. Very often, municipal procurement efforts have led to expensive litigation because key decision-makers are simply unaware of what the law requires.
Buyers need to understand the relationship between the rules imposed under municipal purchasing bylaws and policies and the restrictions that exist on the award of municipal contracts under the tender process.
Never bypass the rules in order to move the process along faster. Most municipalities have policies in place to handle rush purchasing issues and still keep within the rules set out under the government procurement policy.
Make it a practice to seek advice. Even experts are unwise to guess. It is better to take the time to find out the correct answer.
When scoring an RFP with other people on the project, make sure everyone is using the same set of scoring criteria to apply to the process for every proponent. If the information on which evaluators are relying was not provided in the bid documents, it should not be counted.
Make sure all the bidders have provided the required information. Take the time to read their bids carefully to confirm they have the ability to perform the contract properly.
In my opinion, during this pandemic the opportunity for bid-rigging is more prevalent. I say that primarily because everyone is working remotely, which diminishes the scrutiny for monitoring the bid process closely as a team.
I would suggest during remote working conditions, COVID, and the stay at home orders, the buyers need to be more vigilant, as the responsibility is now, more than ever, to keep his or her eyes open and report any suspicious transactions to his or her manager or director — rather to play the role of detective or accuser.
There are serious risks of liability in making unfounded accusations of fraud or near-fraudulent activity (which is essentially what bid-rigging amounts to) and for this reason no concern should be taken public unless the matter has been properly investigated.
Over my several decades of personally conducting these types of investigations for municipalities, as well as private sector companies, they always have many moving parts that need to be looked at, not just in silos, but as a 1,000-piece puzzle. Only at that time can you be sure you have turned over every rock to get to the truth.
These types of investigations take time and are very costly, but are necessary. Once the reputation of any municipality is put in question, due to unscrupulous behaviour of its leadership, the only way to clear up that tarnished view by the taxpayers is through an exhaustive and completely independent external audit that can leave no doubt as to the outcome.
It is an absolute fact that top rated suppliers, and contractors “will not” submit bids to a municipality with a dubious past of perpetual skulduggery.
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.