Return to tender
The road to hell is paved with good intentions. A bigger danger is that all our roads might be paved that way.
Last Monday, the provincial government introduced a plan to revamp the Public Tender Act. It’s a promise governments have been making in this province for years, but the promises haven’t been kept. To put it bluntly, it’s not a very sexy issue for voters and ordinary members of the public, even though the government spends some $4 billion a year on everything from school books to pavement to diagnostic medical equipment.
Devising a system that brings more value for that $4 billion is a valiant goal - but the plan also has a few risks. The government wants to move away from the position that the lowest bid should be the only measure of a winning bid, and move instead to the concept that the government should try to find the bid that’s the best value. Good luck with that. At least one aspect of the proposed changes is a good start.
For years, some of the provincial government’s most lucrative contracts - among them, legal and consulting work - haven’t gone through the tender process at all. The argument has always been that lowest price isn’t an accurate measure for the best consulting work, and that’s led to questionable contract awards, with allegations about work being handed out on the basis of who you know, not what you know.
The proposed changes would bring that work under the public tendering umbrella, and that’s a good thing - consulting work should always be done by the best people for the job, rather than the ones who have donated to the right political party.
But other changes to the tender process will face some critical hurdles.
The problem is the addition of any kind of subjectivity to the process. Calculating the lowest price per tender - and, by and large, awarding the contract to the lowest-price tender that can meet the specifications - is far easier to apply, and to police, than having someone divine the best value.
The provincial government faces lawsuits regularly under the current system questioning whether bidders were properly qualified or disqualified, and whether the process was fair and transparent for all bidders. Even in a relatively straightforward system without subjectivity, the provincial government loses a fair number of public tendering cases.
Beauty - and value - can be in the eye of the beholder, and subjective picks of the “best” bid could potentially have even greater implications for lawsuits against the government, especially if cronyism manages to worm its way into government’s picks.
The bottom line? The selections have to be made with this province’s best interests at heart. And that’s not something that any party in power in this province has had a great track record of delivering.
This editorial originally appeared in The Telegram