Opposition questions millions in untendered contracts

James McLeod
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In the past five years, the provincial government has spent more than half a billion dollars in untendered contracts, but the minister responsible says that's in keeping with the laws.

Meanwhile, the opposition parties are crying foul. Liberal MHA Yvonne Jones has written a letter to the province's acting auditor general asking him to fully examine the public tendering exceptions and the money the government is spending.

Under the Public Tendering Act, most government money spent on purchasing goods and services needs to be publicly tendered, allowing for a competitive process and the best price for taxpayers.

"What we're seeing today is a number of things that are being sole-sourced and being exempt from the Public Tendering Act with absolutely no justification that is legitimate," Jones said.

For example, she pointed to one exception to the public tendering law, which had the government spending $28,000 to rent audio equipment in 2009 for the welcoming ceremony when Prince Charles visited the province.

The audio equipment was rented under the "pressing emergency" exception in the act.

"Everyone in this province knew of the royal visit a year in advance, but the government had not prepared for it," Jones said.

Flipping through the list of public tendering exceptions - which the government is required by law to disclose - other notable exceptions jump out.

Contracts around the building of new ferries in Marystown are exempt from public tendering because they represent regional economic development.

However, the exception applies to untendered contracts for hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of steel for the ferries bought from as far afield as Texas and England.

Service NL Minister Paul Davis, who is responsible for the government purchasing agency, couldn't explain why that was the case.

"I can't answer that. I obviously don't have the specifics of that, but if you want, I can try and get that for you," he said.

Generally, though, he said he's satisfied that the public tendering legislation is good, although it may be up for review at some point.

"Government regularly reviews legislation. It's a regular part of the function of the government to look at legislation and review legislation. that happens on an ongoing basis," he said. "Is there a plan to amend or update the act? Well, I'm looking at the act. I've had a look at the act and what may come or what depth of review that may occur is yet to be determined."

That wasn't good enough for NDP critic Christopher Mitchelmore. He said the government should look at strengthening the legislation.

"What I would like to see is legislation to be tabled to debate and address these issues here," he said. "I'd like to see new legislation put on the table when the house opens - you know, if it's ever going to open."

There has been a substantial growth in the overall amount of money spent by government through public tendering exceptions.

In 2005, $48 million was spent in untendered contracts. That number increased to $88 million in 2009, and jumped to $115 million last year.

In the five-year period from 2005-10, the government spent $508 million in untendered contracts.

Davis said the public tendering exceptions only represent about one per cent of government spending. They also include municipalities, health authorities and other public bodies.

All of this, he said, is according to the proper process.

"There's a process that's in place." Davis said. "Included in that process is the reporting of exemptions, and when the reporting of exemptions occurs, there's a process that exists as well with that."

jmcleod@thetelegram.com Twitter: TelegramJames


Geographic location: Marystown, Texas, England

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Recent comments

  • Bob
    December 18, 2011 - 14:10

    The Public Tendering Act is like polititians themselves. A licence to loot. If Davis was still with the RNC where he belongs, forget that, he was there for over 20 years and still a constable.

  • lonenewfwolf
    December 17, 2011 - 15:54

    and that's not counting the 10's of millions of dollars snc-lavalin has been promised in the multi-year contracts on muskrat falls, white rose and god knows what else that has gone through nalcor.