Public procurement is governed by both EU and national rules and my Department ensures that appropriate procedures are followed for procurement activity. Individual Accounting Officers are responsible for ensuring that public procurement is discharged in line with the standard accounting and procurement rules and procedures and that contract prices are fair and reasonable and represent best value for money. Procurement activity is subject to both internal audit within the Department and review by the Office of the Comptroller & Auditor General.
The aim of procurement rules is to promote an open, competitive and non-discriminatory public procurement regime which delivers best value for money.
In general, competitive tendering is used unless exceptional circumstances exist which justify an alternative approach. Situations where competitive tendering may not be appropriate, feasible or cost-effective include where due to the proprietary nature of goods or services there is a sole supplier of these goods or services, where annual licensing renewals arise, where specific specialist knowledge is required, where urgency is a factor, or where it has been necessary to extend a pre-existing contract for a period of time pending a tender competition being completed.
The Department must also balance situations where the process of establishing a procurement framework by the Office of Government Procurement (OGP) is ongoing. As the Deputy will be aware, Government policy is to make use of such central arrangements where possible. Where the establishment of a framework is pending, the Department may roll over existing arrangements without a competitive tender process to avoid entering a long-term contract with relatively disadvantageous terms.
Department of Finance Circular 40/02 requires Government Departments and Offices to submit an annual report to the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General for contracts above €25,000 (exclusive of VAT) awarded without a competitive process by 31 March of the following year.
It is important to note that procurement reported under Circular 40/02 is not inherently non-compliant. Rather, it is the subset of procurement activity for which competitive tendering is not considered appropriate under the circumstances.
Details of contracts awarded by my Department without the use of a competitive process are outlined in the Department’s Appropriation Accounts for 2017 and 2018. Work is continuing on compiling similar information for 2019 and this will be published in the 2019 Appropriation Account.
In 2018 a determination was made by the Office of the Comptroller & Auditor General that the procurement with respect to eighteen contracts reported under Circular 40/02 was non-compliant. As set out in the Appropriation Accounts in 2018, these contracts were extended without a competitive process primarily while revised long-term arrangements or OGP frameworks were put in place.
The Department has reviewed these contracts and is satisfied that while delays in establishing long-term arrangements were regrettable, the consequent decisions to roll over existing contracts were necessary and justified due to the continuing need to maintain the supply of goods or services to clients.
I have requested that relevant agencies under the remit of my Department, and operating under a separate Vote structure (An Garda Síochána, Irish Prison Service and Courts Service) respond directly to the Deputy.