One of the key initiatives of the Government’s July Procurement Statement was the creation of a Procurement Coordinator role in the Department of Finance and Deregulation (Finance).
The aim is “to improve the handling of complaints and the promotion of best practice and accountability.” While the initiative has been met with strong support, there are some exceptional situations that may need additional consideration. What will happen if the Procurement Coordinator has to handle problems with a procurement run by Finance?
Industry veterans may recall that in the 1990s, the then Department of Administrative Services (DAS) had a Procurement Complaints Commissioner. This was because a formal complaints handling process was required for Australian participation in various trade agreements including that between Australian and New Zealand, to enable Australia’s accession to the WTO Code on Government Procurement and, more recently, the Australia—United States Free Trade Agreement (AUSFTA).
The processes of good government – indeed, the rule of law – require complaints to be heard and processes to be transparent and accountable.
An issue with the Procurement Complaints Commissioner in DAS, and the Procurement Coordinator this time, is the co-location of the function within the department responsible for procurement policy. Finance undertakes tender processes for coordinated procurements such as travel services (underway) or for telecommunications, desktops and business machines (planned). In such a scenario, the Procurement Coordinator may be presented with a conflict of interest, which can be summed up as 'who minds the minder?'.
Suppliers may need an independent agent of government with whom they can raise concerns about procurement processes in a timely fashion. The Government may need this too, as part of best practice transparency and accountability frameworks, but without being bogged down by lengthy reviews. While the Audit Office and the Commonwealth Ombudsman are alternative avenues, each has limitations especially regarding the timeframes in which they can act and the processes by which they accept and hear any complaints.