Deputy Rose Conway-Walsh

Mayo TD raises concern over alleged public procurement bid-rigging

A Mayo TD has raised concerns over alleged public procurement bid-rigging.

Deputy Rose Conway-Walsh said in July 2022 six Spanish construction firms were fined €200 million by the Spanish regulator for colluding on bids for public construction contracts.

She elaborated: "The Spanish state has banned these companies from participating in the public procurement process.

"Five of those Spanish companies have won public construction contracts in Ireland.

"What they did was essentially agree (between themselves) who would win in advance of the bid, in other words, 'It's your turn next'.

"Three bids would be submitted and then two would later pull out, leaving one bidder remaining.

"The government of the day would have to choose between starting the process over and going with the only remaining bid."

The Erris-based representative asked Minister for Public Expenditure Paschal Donohue if he was aware of these developments in Spain and the operation of these companies in Ireland.

She continued: "If he is, what measures has he taken to ensure that the practice for which they were fined in Spain is not happening here?

"Is the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) adequately set up to investigate collusion of this nature and protect public money?"

In response, Minister Donohue outlined: 'Regarding the powers that are available to the CCPC, in 2022, the Competition Act 2002 was amended in 2022.

"The Competition (Amendment) Act 2022 transposed Directive (EU) 2019/1 of the European Union to create a specific new criminal offence of bid-rigging.

"That Act identified several practices that would be deemed to be criminal behaviour, some of which Deputy Conway-Walsh described.

"The reason that change was made was to ensure the CCPC would have sufficient enforcement powers to combat bid-rigging effectively.

"We do all we can to give the CCPC and similar bodies the resources they need to implement laws like this.

"It goes without saying that if Deputy Conway-Walsh has any founded concern regarding any bidding processes not being conducted appropriately, I am sure she will raise that directly with the CCPC because she may have very legitimate concerns that merit scrutiny or investigation by the CCPC."

Deputy Rose Conway-Walsh: "I have. I will not read out the names here.

"I will raise it with the CCPC because I have been looking at some patterns involving contracts that have been awarded here that warrant further investigation and explanation.

"I will not identify the companies, even though I have the details.

"I cannot see how companies that were involved in bid-rigging in Spain and were fined for doing so would then come here and the same concerns would not arise.

"There have been a number of very well-known projects where a number of the bidders would have worked together in the past and you find that coming up to the time when the contract is going to be awarded or the decision is going to be made, suddenly two of them pull out leaving only one bidder.

"This is a serious matter and we need to reassure the public that everything is transparent and we are really getting value for money in these projects."

Minister Donohoe: "If the deputy has concerns she believes are worthy of investigation, it is important that the relevant bodies are contacted and the information is shared with them.

"I will simply assure the Oireachtas that my view is that our procurement practices are conducted in compliance with the law.

"The OGP, both directly and indirectly, seeks to create an environment in which tendering and procurement processes are carried out in a way that is consistent with best practice to deliver good value for the taxpayer.

"There have been several occasions on which the number of companies participating in bidding processes is far lower than we would have wanted or expected, but my strong view is that much of that is due to legitimate and understandable economic circumstances as opposed to anything else.

"It is the right of the deputy to raise this matter here and raise it elsewhere if she feels it is worthy of scrutiny.

"I can simply offer assurance regarding the conduct of our procurement practices for all but, of course, any serious matter does need to be investigated."