01 November 2007 | Paul Snell
The Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) has come under fire for a lack of transparency over gifts and corporate hospitality offered to its staff by contractors.
Freedom of Information campaigners the Open Society Institute (OSI) accused the ODA of failing a "basic anti-corruption indicator" by allowing the group only 90 minutes to examine its register of gifts and interests.
OSI researchers spent six months trying to obtain details of gifts offered to ODA staff. They were initially refused on the grounds that disclosure would violate the privacy of public officials. Last month the OSI was given the chance to view the records at the ODA headquarters, but researchers were only allowed to transcribe them by hand. Hospitality offered to Olympics staff included tickets to the Last Night of the Proms, the Heineken Cup rugby final and the Stella Artois tennis tournament. Its records do not indicate whether these offers were taken up or not.
Heather Brooke, OSI UK project director, said: "The greater amount of public money involved, the more susceptible a project is to corruption. It is very surprising to find that a project of the magnitude of the Olympics is failing in such a basic anti-corruption indicator.
"It's important for the ODA not to just do the right thing, but be seen to do the right thing," she added.
The ODA said in a statement: "We have strict rules for all members of staff. Employees and their families are not permitted to receive any form of hospitality from any third party participating in an active tender for the ODA's business. Occasional hospitality from partners with who we are already working closely is not unusual and can be important to help build relationships on what is a very challenging project."
There is no allegation that any corruption has taken place. The ODA's procurement policy states that the register will be able to identify any potential conflicts of interest and will seek information about them at the "early stages" of any procurement. Brooke said the "backward" approach to transparency must be improved if the contract award process was to be above suspicion.
The ODA said if it were to release the records in hard copy to campaigners, it would delete the names of those staff offered gifts. But Brooke argued the "whole usefulness" of the register would be taken away.