Written by: Donna Kirk – Pro Leaders Academy

As a lay person reading a recent article from the ABC, one could get a little rattled at what seems to be a complete and utter disgrace. There is a perception that an entire population base has been impacted by individuals lack of care. People have died. You can almost sense the anger rumbling in the headlines with the words ‘cover up’.

With a sense of emotional detachment, as one of only a few nationally experienced and qualified trainers delivering PROCUREMENT & CONTRACTING qualifications we take a deeper look at what has reportedly occurred to understand where things went wrong.

Firstly – This was a government requested activity – a PROCUREMENT.

The procurement has taken place under challenging circumstances with limited time. The need was genuinely urgent forcing the Victorian Government to act swiftly to meet the needs of an evolving situation. To best manage this a Limited Tender process was used to secure the services of the required contractors – in this case security personnel.

A Limited Tender option was the most appropriate option in this situation due to the time constraints. The alternative of an Open Tender process would have simply taken too long.

Secondly there was a CONTRACT.

This was a contract to meet the immediate needs of the community. The three security companies that were contracted had to provide hundreds of guards at short notice to work in quarantine hotels. This required the security companies to use their current workforce and again due to a lack of available time, the need to subcontract others was the final solution. The Contract entered into allowed for this however stipulated that the prime contractor itself was required to pass on its obligations of training and infection control to every subcontractor.

The process worked as it should to that point and then it didn’t.

‘Time’ was considered limited therefore there is a view that decisions to take shortcuts have been taken at various levels during the procurement process.

  • The main contractor has not secured written confirmation from the subcontractors they have engaged to ensure they are aware of the obligations under the main contract.
  • The Victorian Government staff did not follow up on the documentation that they required to confirm that any subcontractor used was aware of their obligations under the main contract. Again, this may well have been a case of a team under pressure to get things moving fast with little time to cross the i’s and dot the ‘t’s’
  • There doesn’t appear to be any high-level oversight of PROBITY in the procurement process with what would have been a very HIGH-RISK
  • There appears to also be a lack of procurement / contract management professional guidance.

 

It was only AFTER the announcement of a public inquiry that people began to look at what had occurred.

Unfortunately for some of the parties involved, noting the lack of due diligence and following of correct procurement processes, some have chosen to try to rectify the situation retrospectively hence the reference to ‘cover up’.
This may not have been the intention, however as we know PERCEPTION is the reality of external viewpoints and must always be considered.

In Procurement and the process of awarding tenders and managing contracts – there is a defined and legislated process. Failure to follow this process will often result in a negative outcome as seen here.

While we wait for the inquiry to be completed and recommendations to be made – in terms of the procurement process itself there are key takeaways you might consider:

  • Lack of required documentation.“Document Everything!” We reiterate this statement many times during our training. You need to create an audit trail with any procurement, irrespective of the timeframe or dollar value. Ensuring you have the supporting EVIDENCE will provide you confidence in your decision making and provide the audit path that may be required if the project or procurement comes under scrutiny.
  • Shortcuts and possible reliance on previous agreements and relationships.Reliance on previous relationships to provide a service can be harmful when the service required has different and/or unique requirements. Past work is not always representative of future capabilities. Every contract must be considered on its own merits with the inclusion or removal of relevant clauses.
  • Lack of Probity in the process – would the decisions made stand up to ‘The Pub test?’ This is a straightforward process. Include an experienced person outside of the team to review the decisions PRIOR to being made.

Procurement Policies are in place for each State and Territory. Buying for Victoria has a detailed framework for purchasing. The rules do not stop applying because of challenging external factors. In fact, it could be suggested that the rules become even more important when the challenges are outside the norm.

The challenges are many and people’s lives have been put at risk directly and indirectly due to Covid-19. Lessons will need to be learnt and acted on.