Thursday, 25 March 2010

Undisclosed Email Problems for Government in Rathlin Ferry Saga

77 Offence of altering etc. records with intent to prevent disclosure .. Freedom of Information Act 2000

These inter-departmental emails were released by the Central Procurement Directorate (CPD) on 15 March 2010 following an FoI request. They were not released by the Department for Regional Development (DRD) following an earlier request in 2008 for such information.

These important documents appear not to have been evaluated by the independent investigators during the 2008 investigation into the procurement of the Rathlin ferry service. Were these emails given to the investigators and, if not, why not?

The far from watertight investigators report was published in December 2008 and has yet to be scrutinised by the Committee for Regional Development. Sadly, this report does not list the documents examined by the investigators.

CPD staff expressed a range of reservations to their DRD colleagues following the submission of tenders in the first tendering process in 2007 and prior to their evaluation:

*** still has reservations over the scoring frame. Just as myself and *** have already said, he continues to be worried about its transparency and the integrity of the whole process. I remain extremely uncomfortable with the notion of any evaluation model which is set up to exclude [12 Oct 2007]

I am disappointed to note this e-mail. You believe that the adjustments to the scoring frame were minor. I have approved these adjustments and I am satisfied that the adjustments are fundamental clarifications of the competition criteria and that it was essential that this exercise was completed before opening the tenders.

You now raise concerns that the requirement for explicit sub criteria has not been fully appreciated within the context of this competition.

The integrity of the process is dependent on each member of the evaluation team being clear on the contract requirements [17 October 2007]

These CPD reservations indicate that the tenderers were not given a detailed breakdown of the scoring system and so were left in the dark as to the weightings to be applied. [Failure to detail sub-criteria and associated weightings in advance to tenderers can have consequences.]

Also, at least one of the tenderers was not told in this tendering process that DRD had budgeted £1.2 million for a passenger only ferry for the Rathlin route, a figure curiously adjacent to the cost of the Rathlin Express catamaran. £1.2 million is a very significant figure in the context of a £4 million contract.

Which members of the evaluation team were in contact with the tenderers prior to the advertisement of the contract, between the advertisement and the submission of tenders and between the submission of tenders and the scoring process?

I would have expected that the evaluation team would have been able to act independently of the tenderers and those members of CPD and DRD they had dealings with.

Probity would require nothing less.

Adds March 26

"The EU can play a critical role in promoting best practice and ensuring a coordinated and integrated response across member states to the challenge of sustainable transport." .. Conor Murphy 24.03.2010

Minister Conor Murphy has yet to release the contents of the EU investigation report into aspects of the Rathlin ferry procurement contract and the Office of Government Commerce hasn't as yet had full co-operation from all parties to that investigation. Can we expect the EU to insist on best practice? Will its conclusions be sustainable or will they leak like the DRD's internal investigation?