The provincial government spent $4.1 million to save $20 million on buying things, but large-scale reform to government procurement policies could still be years away.
At a news conference Friday morning, Service NL Minister Dan Crummell said the only thing he can say for sure is that the government plans to keep an election promise to reform the Public Tendering Act some time before October 2015.
It looked like the government was pretty close to updating the legislation in the spring of 2012 — it even went so far as to give the House of Assembly notice that it was planning on introducing a new piece of legislation — but then it backed away from it without ever making the text of the bill public.
The Public Tendering Act governs the way the government buys pretty much everything. In 2012, the exceptions to the public tendering act amounted to more than $100 million.
For years, the government has been arguing the Public Tendering Act is broken and needs replacing, and last winter, the auditor general found some dodgy things going on in government when bureaucrats were supposed to be using the public tendering process.
Auditor General Terry Paddon reported the government didn’t use the public tendering process for $33,700 worth of audio-visual equipment for the 2009 Royal visit, citing a “pressing emergency” as the reason for not going to tender.
“The department was aware of the visit and had sufficient time to invite a tender,” Paddon wrote in the report.
Similarly, the government paid $72,664 for anti-virus software renewal — also a “pressing emergency.” Crummell said Friday that in some situations, the Public Tendering Act is too restrictive; by simply taking the lowest bid at tendering, the government may not be getting the best value.
Last winter, the province paid consulting firm Deloitte to look at procurement and find ways to save money. On Friday, Crummell said by changing the way government pays for printing services, road salt, vehicle insurance and a range of other things, it will save around $20 million annually.
The government paid Deloitte $4.1 million for its work.
But when it comes to the Public Tendering Act, which handles hundreds of millions of dollars, Crummell made it sound like it’s back to the drawing board, a year and a half after the government was nearly ready to table the bill in the House.
“There’s many pieces of that legislation that are important, that we’ve got to get right. We’re still consulting with key stakeholders,” he said.
“When we get the work done, we’ll advise at that appropriate time, and we’ll let people know then when we’re going to bring it to the legislature.”
Liberal MHA Tom Osborne said the savings of $20 million with the help of Deloitte was good to see, but he called it a “stall tactic” compared to broader public tendering reform.
“Was it that bad when they initially tabled it that it’s taken two years to finally get it to the table again?” he said.
New Democrat MHA George Murphy said there’s not a lot he can say until he sees the new law.
“The whole idea of the potential for money savings is great, but you know, this legislation, we haven’t laid eyes on it,” he said.
When pressed, Crummell would only make one firm commitment. “We are committed to doing it before the next election,” he said.
The next election is scheduled for Oct. 13, 2015.