The law on Public Procurement is a good one. It is not very prescriptive, but sets out a number of sensible principles. It is complemented by the Strategy for the Development of Public Procurement 2014-18 which is also binding for a public body.
These require a contracting authority to provide good value for taxpayer’s money, ensure competition, treat all bidders equally and ensure acceptable conditions for SMEs.
To do this, they must accurately describe the work to be done (technical specifications), dividing the work into lots where appropriate. They must set non-discriminatory participation conditions logically related to the technical specifications. They must set evaluation criteria that follow the logic and balance of the technical specifications and they must provide sufficient time to prepare a bid.
Unfortunately, they usually don’t. At present, public contracting authorities have little experience and many tenders have been cancelled by the Republic Commission for the Protection of Bidders’ Rights, an independent appeal body to which bidders may complain.
The problem is that authorities provide sketchy or missing specifications that don’t show the relative size of the different jobs to be done, discriminatory participation conditions, evaluation criteria that do not address quality at all or fail to follow the balance of the specifications (if there are any), and lump different types of work into one tender with no lots. And surprisingly many tenders are launched the day before a long public holiday, giving too little time to prepare a bid.
The Republic Commission publicises its decisions on its web site (www.kjn.gov.rs/). In the Serbian association of translation companies SATC, we have taken a look at some of the decisions. In the past year many complaints were made: SATC member companies alone lodged 15. They do not do this lightly: 14 were upheld by the Commission and only one rejected – because it was submitted a couple of hours late.
There are many reasons for a tender being cancelled. The most common is when bidders are required to guarantee certain minimum number of permanent staff. This is discriminatory and restrictive to competition because other forms of staff engagement allow equally good service performance. It is up to the bidder to organise its business model as it sees fit.
Some tenders have demanded references provided by a particular type of client e.g. public sector institutions or institutions that have a predominant activity, e.g. electricity production. The Commission has judged that references that confirm experience in translating specific material related to the subject of the procurement are relevant, and that the type of client is not.
Other unjustified conditions include a requirement for a permanent court interpreter; a specified total number of employees, that a translator’s diploma be recognized at a foreign university (one tender even wanted a doctorate from a particular Italian university!), or that the bidder must be registered with the Business Registers Agency with translation services as predominant activity (in breach of the Law on Business Companies).
You can read about this in more detail on the page http://upps.org.rs/about-translation/procurement/#1. In highlighting the most common errors in drafting tender dossiers, we hope to help avoid their repetition. This is in the mutual interest of both contracting authorities and translation companies. Cancelled tenders cost time and taxpayers’ money, and bad tender results do not give the taxpayer good value for their hard-earned cash.