The ACT Government has been accused of encouraging a culture of secrecy after revelations the Education Directorate attempted to thwart the release of information about the contentious Campbell Primary School upgrade tender.
The Canberra Liberals made the claim after the release of documents under Freedom of Information (FOI) laws showed that in 2020 the unsuccessful tenderer, Canberra company Manteena, had requested details about the evaluation scores and pricing of the eventual winning tenderer Lendlease.
The directorate refused the application from Manteena’s lawyers on the grounds it was considered prejudicial to Lendlease’s business affairs and the competitive commercial interests of the directorate. But the ACT Ombudsman varied the decision to allow the release of the scores but not the price.
The Liberals said the documents also showed Education Minister Yvette Berry first became aware of potential issues with procurement processes within her directorate well before the Auditor-General’s scathing report on the Campbell Primary School Modernisation Project was released just before Christmas.
The Auditor-General found the procurement lacked probity and that tenderers were not dealt with fairly, impartially and consistently.
Despite Canberra firm Manteena being selected in 2020 as the preferred tender, the contract went to multi-national Lendlease after the weighted evaluation criteria used in government tenders was in effect re-weighted and re-prioritised.
The delegate – the acting executive group manager, Business Services Division (Education Directorate) – overruled the Tender Evaluation Team’s recommendation and instead proposed to the Education Directorate Director-General Katy Haire that Lendlease be named the preferred tenderer because it offered the “best value for money”.
But the audit found the delegate failed to provide adequate rationale and reasoning for the decision.
The Integrity Commission is now considering an investigation and an Assembly committee has launched a fresh inquiry.
The FOI logs show the directorate made Ms Berry aware of the coming audit in May last year, and Manteena’s FOI request.
The letter notes the audit may identify ‘process improvements’ to strengthen future procurement processes and that media and industry interest is expected.
The directorate again briefed the minister in September about the Ombudsman’s review of the FOI decision and audit report, and the expected negative media response and strong interest from the Assembly.
Canberra Liberals Leader Elizabeth Lee said the documents showed the minister was either deliberately hiding the truth or incompetent.
“It is astounding that the minister has continually stated she had no knowledge of issues with procurements within her directorate until the Auditor-General’s report was released in December,” Ms Lee said.
“Even after the scathing report was released by the Auditor-General that says the procurement process lacked probity, the minister still does not think there was anything wrong with the Campbell Primary procurement process.
“What we see again is a culture of secrecy within the ACT Labor-Greens Government hoping to sweep it all under the carpet.”
An ACT Government spokesperson said Ms Berry was kept informed about the process of the audit as it occurred but only found out about the probity finding when it was completed.
The Education Directorate began an external review of the probity of the Campbell Primary School modernisation procurement process based on documents identified through an FOI request.
The directorate was unaware of any legal action being taken against the ACT Government over the procurement process.
The government’s response to the Auditor-General’s report will be tabled on Thursday.