pushing the contract yourselfIn a previous article we used the analogy of a 1985 Zastava 128 that a ministry hired after tendering for ‘a roadworthy car’. It was 30 years old, but having passed its technical inspection it was officially roadworthy, so the offer had to be accepted. A contract is signed and our official takes charge of the vehicle.

But it doesn’t work. The engine sputters, and he has to get his two assistants to push it all the way to a meeting with the EU. Looking through the papers, he also discovers that the firm he hired it from had lied – their mechanic’s certificate is false, he was not qualified to make a technical inspection at all.

What does our official do? Send it back and refuse to pay? No, he wrings his hands, says “kuku meni” a few times, pays up and spends the year until the next tender having his assistants push.

Back to translation. Some companies will stop at nothing to win contracts. They provide false references, they offer prices too low to engage competent translators, they provide ‘translations’ made on Google and they fail to edit their work. The result: lousy quality and an unnecessarily poor quality/price ratio even at the low price contracted – bad value for taxpayers’ money.

Here’s one good trick. You want to bid for a ministry’s contract, but don’t have a reference showing previous experience in the subject? No problem. Just open another company and have it write a reference – who is to say it’s false? Well, quite a lot of people, but will they do anything about it? On past practice, probably not.

So make false statements, bid low, offer Google and you can get away with it because there have been almost no cases of cancellation of contract for non-performance (we have heard of just two), and certainly no prosecutions for fraud. Ako prodje, prodje. And it does.

Can anything be done about it? Yes, plenty.

First, make sure your tender dossier contains only conditions and evaluation criteria that are easily verifiable. Second, give a warning in the dossier that any information provided in a bid is done so on conditions of full legal liability. This makes it easier to prosecute fraud.

Third, check the references of the winning bidder thoroughly before awarding a contract. You say you have done 3,000 pages on the subject of fisheries? Show us the documents in both source and target languages, work orders and the bank statements showing they were paid. If the bidder can’t, exclude him for a period from any further tender you hold.

Fourth, write your contract carefully. Include a clear mechanism for cancellation for non-performance, and use it. But don’t just cancel it, notify the company that they may not bid again for the same contract and make a formal complaint. One poor institution was desperately waiting for a contract to finish due to terrible performance, so bad that they refused the contractor a reference – but they failed to cancel or complain. They had to award a second contract to the same bidder who had the cheek to bid again and gave another impossibly low price.

Fifth, to avoid trouble (since such measures can also be, and are, misused), get an independent expert to verify that the breach of contract is real. Indeed, hold an arbitration meeting in which the offender can bring expert assistance himself.
Repeated bad performance should have consequences for the present contract and for future tenders. Contracting authorities should be much bolder in applying such measures to discourage dishonest bidding.

Yes, it means more bother in the short term, but until authorities show a collective will to act against cynical companies, and to do so decisively, quality will be nothing but an old banger.

SATC wishes to draw attention to bad tendering practices, on the part of contracting authorities and bidders. In this way we wish to contribute to better practice and good quality, so that the Serbian taxpayer obtains reasonable value for her hard-earned money.

See more at http://upps/org.rs/procurement

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