serbianroulette300x225Our price – zero dinars!

For a service that usually costs around 50 euros an hour, this sounds like a bargain, doesn’t it? Actually, no.

Here’s how it works. A public institution holds a tender for translation services, the contract is 3 million RSD. They don’t want to be bothered with two contracts, so they put oral interpretation and written translation together in one lot. In fact they almost never need an interpreter, since they all speak English, as do any foreigners they come into contact with. But being prudent, they would like to keep the possibility open. However, for the last 3 years, written translation has almost always taken 100% of the contract.

In the tender dossier, the technical specifications should explain this, to honour article 70 of the Law on Public Procurement. But the since the officials making the tender dossier are not procurement experts, they don’t.

Next, to fulfil Article 84, the evaluation criteria should be weighted according to the description that should be there. But it isn’t so they aren’t. Instead, the authors make a stab at it – “if we have interpretation there at all, we’d better make it sound serious, let’s put 20 points on it, and the other 80 on the written work”.

Company A, run by Ana, responds with a typical market price: 4,500 RSD per hour for interpretation, 1,200 RSD per page for translation. For this price she can engage capable interpreters and translators, and have a translated text edited by a second competent translator before it goes to the client. She can cover her fixed costs like computers, document management systems, ISO standards certification, a project manager’s salary and tax (she operates legally), translation software licenses and so on, and perhaps even make a (very) small profit. The client can expect 2,500 pages of good quality translation for its 3 million.

Bojana in company B knows that this client never needs an interpreter. So she offers 0 RSD for interpretation and 1,500 for translation. With these prices, the client can expect only 2,000 pages.
In the evaluation, Ana scores 80 points: 0/3500 of 20 points, plus all of the 80 for the lowest translation price. Bojana scores 20 for the lowest interpretation price, and 64 for translation: 1,200/1,500 of the 80 points.

Bojana wins 84 to 80, and the taxpayer loses.

In the next tender, Ana isn’t going to be fooled again. She bids zero for interpretation too – she is forced to. But lo and behold, this client has just made a big deal with the Israelis, but failed to say anything about it in the technical specifications. Ana is forced to provide Hebrew interpreters for a series of conferences – all for free. The client wonders why Ana files for bankruptcy later in the year.

Is this a fantasy? No, it is the everyday world of translation tendering in Serbia. Most tenders are more complex than this, but almost all contain elements of this game. It destroys the market, promotes the unscrupulous, discriminates against honest, quality-conscious companies and does no favours to the Serbian taxpayer, who foots the bill.

You can read about this in more detail on the procurement page ( 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.

Copyright 2015 SATC