When the Government spends money, it is spending your money and my money, so we expect that there is a certain level of transparency and accountability. If there is little transparency or accountability, it is easy to throw around allegations of bias, and unfair advantage. Such allegations are not only damaging to the individuals involved, but also have the potential to embarrass the government of the day.
Here in Canberra, both the ACT Government and Commonwealth Government are subject to various procurement and probity legislation and policy. The key sources are the Government Procurement Act 2001(ACT) for the ACT Government, and the Commonwealth Procurement Rules for the Commonwealth. The details are all largely common sense, but these can be difficult to apply when caught up in an often lengthy and complex procurement. The following are a list of steps you can take to protect yourself against allegations that you have not acted with probity:
Declare any actual or potential conflict of interest
And once you have declared a conflict, a decision should be made on how to deal with the conflict. It does not always means excluding someone from the process – but it could mean limited access to information or decision making roles.
Don’t be involved in the procurement process if you deal with current suppliers
If you deal with current suppliers, you probably should avoid working on the procurement process. It will remove the concern that current providers have an unfair advantage because they are already working with the decision makers.
Implement processes for dealing with enquiries or questions that arise
There should be one point of contact for dealing with enquiries. That person should be trained on protocols for responding, and have clear guidance on what information can be released.
For example, ensure all potential suppliers receive the same information and do not accept any late tenders. There is tested case law on the need for Government to be consistent in procurement.
Develop and implement a probity plan
All of the above points, plus more, should be set out in a probity plan at the beginning of a procurement, and covered off in a probity briefing to all relevant staff. This will help ensure compliance with the relevant rules, and help remove the risk of allegation of a lack of probity in your procurement.
Griffin Legal can assist Commonwealth Departments as a probity advisor. Your Department can engage Griffin Legal either through the Legal Services Multi-Use List, or the Department of Immigration and Border Protection Consultancy and Business Services Panel which a number of Departments have piggy backed on.
Finally, we note that there is talk that a Bill will shortly go before Federal Parliament which will significantly increase the level of scrutiny around government procurement. Once the details are released we will provide comment on the implications for Departmental processes.