A watchdog has accused Australia’s National Capital Authority (NCA) of failing to use open and competitive procurement processes to ensure it achieves value for money for taxpayers.
The Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) said the NCA, which administers Canberra’s sculptures, memorials and parks, was often guilty of “poor transparency and record keeping”.
In an audit the ANAO said the NCA had been unable to demonstrate value for money and called for it to implement new guidelines around open tenders and competitive procurement.
The report said the NCA was falling behind other public bodies when it came to transparency of procurement processes.
For example, 64% of procurements worth more than A$80,000 in 2019–20 and 2020–21 did not involve open competitive approaches.
And when the NCA had conducted open tenders, effective competition had often been limited — for instance to directly approaching suppliers with whom it had an existing working relationship.
Competition in tenders had also been limited by requests for detailed accompanying documentation.
Just over half of contracts were awarded to the supplier that demonstrated best value for money in documentation accompanying the tender.
“In the remaining 45% of contracts where value for money outcomes had not been demonstrated, this was primarily the result of insufficient analysis being presented commensurate with the scale of the procurement or the result of poor record-keeping practices,” said the report.
The audit also accused procurement of failing to adhere to “a consistent ethical standard”.
Criticisms included incomplete conflict-of-interest declarations by evaluation team members in 39% of the contracts audited, as well as missing declarations.
Only one of 12 high-value procurements, where an external probity adviser was appointed, could provide sufficient records documenting the adviser’s role.
The report also criticised non-compliance in the reporting of contracts on the AusTender public procurement platform, with 40% of RFx documentation failing to include any evaluation criteria.
“Procurement decision-making has not been sufficiently accountable and transparent,” added the report.
The ANAO’s recommendations included increasing open competitive tenders, improving limited tender records, building a new framework to monitor compliance with procurement regulations, and improved procurement guidance material.
The NCA said there were “practical reasons” for its use of limited tenders but it was addressing the recommendations.
“The NCA has a complex, ageing heritage asset base and operates in a relatively specialised area, often with unique or bespoke equipment and requirements. Over many years, staff have built a solid knowledge of the various areas of operations,” it said.
“NCA officers use this knowledge to optimise the best approach to maintain commonwealth assets effectively and efficiently. As such, procurement processes are designed to deliver the best results, often within narrow markets of specialist skills and expertise.
“On occasion, assets fail unpredictably, requiring that procurement activities be reactive, responding to unforeseen and unprogrammed events or driven by a situation that must be addressed immediately.”
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