Prison Service criticised for €97m contracts


PUBLIC ACCOUNTS COMMITTEE:THE IRISH Prison Service has been criticised in a report from the Dáil’s Public Accounts Committee for awarding contracts worth €97 million on the basis of an initial tender of €2.37 million.

The committee study found some Government agencies were failing to adhere to procurement guidelines, meaning that €69 million worth of goods and services were awarded by means of non-competitive tendering in 2009.

The report claimed the service “continues to be the worst offender”, saying it awarded 154 contracts to the value of €22 million last year. Public Accounts Committee chairman Bernard Allen, Fine Gael TD for Cork North Central, said between 2004 and 2007, two companies got contracts that should have been put out to separate tender.

“The finding of the committee is that the Irish Prison Service was in breach of EU guidelines,” Mr Allen said. “Giving contracts worth €97 million on the basis of an initial tender of €2.37million is no way to do business.

“While we note the arguments made by the Irish Prison Service and we note that their procedures have changed since 2007, we do not accept the validity of their arguments or that they could not have done things differently.

“I think they were badly advised and should have gone to the Attorney General before they entered this series of contracts that eventually came to €97 million.”

Committee member Darragh O’Brien, Fianna Fáil TD for Dublin North, said the report was “about more than the prison service”.

The area of procurement had not traditionally been seen as important and “in many instances the public service was seen as a soft touch for the private service”.

The Department of Finance was also criticised.

Mr Allen said: “As a committee we find the department quite frustrating at times. While it draws up guidelines, it does nothing to ensure they are enforced and while it has concerns where there are breaches, it does little or nothing to follow up on these.”

He said the department needed to “become far more assertive”.

The report recommends that every department be required to clearly outline the amount of goods and services it has procured without a competition.

The newly established National Procurement Service should, before March 31st of each year, report to the Comptroller and Auditor General and the Department of Finance on all draw-down contracts established for public authorities, it says.

Only in extreme circumstances should contracts be tendered for without competition, the Public Accounts Committee notes, and supportive documentation should be provided to verify the necessity.