Thursday, 9 October 2014
Public Procurement Contracts
9. To ask the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the number of contracts that have been awarded to companies part-owned by a person (details supplied); the total net worth of all contracts awarded to companies owned by or part-owned by this person in the lifetime of this Government; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38013/14]
There will be some unease about the fact that Denis O'Brien's close political links may have been instrumental in his bid to buy Siteserv, the company that won the State contract to install water meters for Irish Water. The idea that powerful businessmen with close ties to the establishment still end up profiteering from decisions made by governments or semi-State bodies must be a worry for this Government given that it promised that things would be different.
The information sought by the Deputy is not collected by my Department and would not be collected by contracting authorities as part of a procurement process. Individual contracting authorities in the public and utilities sectors would hold information in relation to contracts awarded by them. They are not required to collect the details of all the shareholders that have invested in a company that has been awarded any particular public contract.
Public contracts are awarded following a transparent and competitive process conducted in compliance with very stringent national and European law. The aim of these rules is to promote an open, competitive and non-discriminatory public procurement regime which delivers best value for money. Public bodies cannot favour or discriminate against particular candidates and there are legal remedies which may be used against any public body infringing these laws. It is the responsibility of each contracting authority to ensure that tenderers comply with all the requirements of the process.
The Deputy will be aware that the reform of public procurement is a key element of the Government's public service reform agenda. The new approach to public procurement involves integrating procurement policy, strategy and sourcing in one office, the Office of Government Procurement, OGP; ensuring a consistent approach to procurement right across the public service; strengthening spending analytics and data management; much greater aggregation of purchasing across public bodies to achieve better value for money; the examination of the specifications set out for goods and services; evaluating demand levels to assess how demand and volume can be reduced; and strengthening supplier and category management.
The OGP is engaged in changing the administration of procurement throughout the public service, ably overseen by my colleague, the Minister of State, to my left. Currently, public service procurement activity is transacted by several hundred contracting authorities across the State. The OGP, together with reformed sector procurement functions in health, education, local government and defence, will enable the public service to speak with one voice to the market for each category of expenditure, ensuring a consistent approach is taken to public expenditure.
It is disappointing this information is not available but it should be available in the interests of transparency and accountability in respect of how people make decisions. The very nature by which this gentleman ended up in possession of Siteserv is very questionable.
The deal with IBRC where €100 million of debt that Siteserv owed to IBRC, which is really the taxpayer, was wiped off is very worrying. Two higher bids for the company that would have earned the State more money were rejected. A former Fine Gael Minister was chairman of IBRC at the time the deal was approved.
The chairman of Siteserv, who I will not name, has acted as an adviser to the National Treasury Management Agency and sits on the board of Enterprise Ireland. As Siteserv has won various State contracts, it raises the question with regard to-----
-----the revolving doors that exist between the corridors of power and governmental bodies and it further undermines the Taoiseach's assertion that he wants to separate the ties between Government and big business because that is not what we are seeing.
That is a very worrying set of assertions as opposed to a question. In terms of procurement, we procure in accordance with law. We do not blacklist people from being able to apply for particular contracts. That politicisation of the public procurement system would be quite improper and unlawful both under national and European law. Bluntly, considering the Deputy's position, I am surprised at some of the assertions he has made.
The Minister may be surprised but I am not saying his is the first Government to oversee non-transparent practices in this area. I am saying it has gone on for years in Ireland, but I thought this Government would do things differently. We need more transparency and accountability in this area. In 2011, there was so much talk of reform and doing things differently but, sadly, the Minister will have to admit that very little has changed in this entire area.
The Deputy is fundamentally, absolutely, completely and wholly wrong. Everything has changed in public procurement. I invite him to meet the OGP, look at the website and come to one of the "Meet the Buyer" seminars that are held throughout the country. Will he take up that invitation and inform himself of the fundamental transformation in procurement?