Reporting period: July – December 2018
During the reporting period Transparency International Bulgaria continued monitoring of the evaluation and selection phase and signing of contracts with the selected contractors in the procurement procedure for the Zheleznitsa tunnel. Traditionally, we registered ‘live’ the key moments and events in relation to the tender in the dedicated ‘Monitoring’ section on the project website. This allows interested persons to inform themselves real-time about the progress of the procedure.
Monitoring activities included analysis of the documents uploaded on the website of the Road Infrastructure Agency (RIA, contracting authority), written correspondence with the Agency and two meetings with representatives of the contracting authority.
After the selection of contractors was finalized, the monitoring team invited all participants in the public procurement procedure to express their opinion about this stage of the tender. Representatives of the constructors did not come up with an assessment or voice any doubts as regards the objectivity of the decisions taken by the RIA. We would not like to speculate on the reasons of the particular tenderers. Nevertheless, Transparency International Bulgaria is of the opinion that yet another refusal by the private sector to voice its position raises more and more concerns not only about the actual functioning of the public procurement mechanism, but of the broader performance of the public sector and their compliance with fundamental market and democracy principles such as fair competition and freedom of expression, as it gives the impression of the existence of other, shady mechanisms for the distribution of public funds.
Transparency International Bulgaria also followed the progress of the appeal of the ranking and selection of contractors before the Commission for Protection of Competition and the Supreme Administrative Court by one of the unsuccessful tenderers*. To be able to reach an objective opinion, we held a meeting with representatives of Aktor SA, Greece at the end of September 2018.
Within the procedures for contracts’ signing, an unforeseen turn in relation to the selected contractor under lot 2 – the most complicated part of the tender, the construction of the tunnel in itself – should be noted down. The leading partner in the winner association, being involved in media speculations about malpractice with EU funds, and in response to the sharp reaction at the highest political level, declared that it would renounce the contract for the Zheleznitsa tunnel. However, these intentions were not formalized before the contracting authority within the reporting period, probably because of the ongoing appeal of the RIA decision as regards the selection of contractor for lot 2.
The multitude of intertwining factors in this situation were the focus of special attention by Transparency International Bulgaria. Our team raised questions concerning different aspects of this issue before the Ministry of Regional Development and Public Works in its capacity of superior body to the RIA, before the Managing Authority of Operational Programme ‘Transport and Transport Infrastructure’ that provides the project funding, and the Public Procurement Agency that is responsible for overall supervision of public procurement procedures.
Transparency International Bulgaria initiated a dialogue with the RIA and the Ministry of Regional Development and Public Works to clarify the reasons why despite the granted by the Commission for Protection of Competition and upheld by the Supreme Administrative Court preliminary execution of the decision for selection of contractors, the contracting authority did not take any action to sign a contract with any of the bidders for lot 2. At the end of November 2018 we held a meeting with the Minister of Regional Development and Public Works, which was attended by representatives of the Road Infrastructure Agency. It was clarified that despite the absence of a legal impediments, the RIA preferred, on grounds of expediency, to wait for the final dispute resolution by the Supreme Administrative Court. The monitoring team continued the monitoring of this case which had not been resolved by the end of the reporting period.
A detailed analysis and conclusions from the monitoring of the evaluation and selection of contractors phase will be presented in a monitoring report in 2019.
After publishing the signed contracts for lots 1 and 3, Transparency International Bulgaria invited for yet another time the successful bidders to join the Integrity Pact. In view of the difficult communication with the private sector that our team experiences thereafter the cancellation of the first tender for Zheleznitsa, we sought for support from the biggest professional organisation in construction in the country. A representative of Transparency International Bulgaria met the executive director of the Bulgarian Construction Chamber, who expressed principle support to the initiative. We will continue to strengthen the cooperation, which will be particularly useful in view of the indifference of the contractors.
In November 2018 Transparency International Bulgaria took active part in the project’s traditional annual stakeholder event. The event was organized jointly by Transparency International Secretariat and the European Commission and this time took place in Brussels, Belgium. Monitors, contracting authorities, contractors and public procurement supervision institutions from 11 Member States took part in the conference. Our representative was one of the panelists sharing lessons learnt from the pilot implementation of the Integrity Pact at European level.
* In the public register of the Commission for Protection of Competition there are two records containing complaint against the Road Infrastructure Agency decision. According to information provided by the contracting authority, one of the bidders withdrew its complaint.