[WATCH] 'Incompetent' evaluation boards leading to 'alarming' rise in public tender appeals

Public Contracts Review Board chairman says a lack of specialised people on boards which formulate tender documents is leading to a sharp rise in pre-contractual concerns

PCRB chairman Anthony Cassar (left) and Finance Minister Edward Scicluna. (Photo: James Bianchi/MediaToday)
PCRB chairman Anthony Cassar (left) and Finance Minister Edward Scicluna. (Photo: James Bianchi/MediaToday)

A sharp increase has been registered in the number of appeals filed before the closing dates of calls for proposals for public contracts has, a report shows.

The basis for most of the appeals was the lack of sufficiently specialised people on the boards responsible for drawing up the tender documents in question, Public Contracts Review Board (PCRB) chairman Anthony Cassar said.

Cassar, who was addressing a press conference on the publication of the PCRB's 2018 annual report, said that an analysis of the causes behind the rise in pre-contractual appeals indicated that the majority had to do with health sector-related calls for proposals.

"The reason for this alarming rise was because the members of the board which would have formulated the tender document weren't sufficiently specialised," Cassar said.

(Photo: James Bianchi/MediaToday)
(Photo: James Bianchi/MediaToday)

While he conceded that Malta was a small country and had its limitations when it came to finding competent people with the required expertise to advise on technical aspects of contracts in the health sector, he said that if more research were put into the process for formulating a tender document, the number of appeals would decrease substantially.

"When an evaluation of a technical matter is taking place, you need competent technical members on the board. The majority of appealed cases which were lost were due to this issue."

"If the formulation is done better, and if some research is put into it, the number of these pre-contractual concerns will go down," he underscored.

Cassar - who had already drawn attention to this issue last year - said that the PCRB had held discussions with the competent authorities and advised them that if there were not sufficiently qualified persons on the relevant contracts boards, appeals would be on the increase, resulting in wasted time when it comes to getting a project done.

Since the PCRB was created six years ago, it has made 800 decisions regarding public contracts, covering investments totalling €700 million, he said, with the number of decisions on appeals being on the rise. The factors leading to the increase in appeal cases are threefold: more tenders are being issued, infrastructural projects are increasing, and there is more awareness of the possibility for an appeal, he said.

"There is now more awareness on the remedies when it comes to an issued tender," Cassar pointed out.

(Photo: James Bianchi/MediaToday)
(Photo: James Bianchi/MediaToday)

Of the appeals made, 57% were upheld in 2018, which is higher than the average rate, which is usually closer to 33%, he said.

People on committees have to be competent - Finance Minister

In comments to MaltaToday after the conference, Finance Minister Edward Scicluna also acknowledged that Malta's size was a challenge when it came to finding people of the right expertise to sit on contract evaluation committees.

Another issue, he said, was that while someone might have the necessary technical knowledge, that person might have a connection to the sector the contract deals with, giving rise to claims of a lack of independence.

"Sometimes someone who is an authority on the subject might be accused of having some relation to [parties interested in the contract], and would thus be disqualified from sitting on the committee, which is a pity," Scicluna said.

This was a reality for Malta, he highlighted, underlining however that finding expert's was not impossible, and that it was essential that people sitting on committees had the necessary competence, even if it meant bringing in experts from abroad.

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