Procurement issues raised in the audit report on the Campbell Primary School Modernisation tender are likely to be endemic in the ACT public sector, Integrity Commissioner Michael Adams has told a Legislative Assembly committee.
Mr Adams appeared before the committee a day after he issued his explosive statement announcing the corruption watchdog was considering launching an investigation into the Campbell Primary School tender, and calling for members of the construction industry to come forward if they had suspicions of improper or corrupt conduct in government tender processes.
The damning report from the Auditor-General found that the procurement process lacked probity and that the ACT Education Directorate did not deal with the tenderers fairly, impartially and consistently.
“It is very unlikely I think that this kind of thing has happened only once,” Mr Adams said.
Outlining the process ahead, Mr Adams indicated that an investigation would almost certainly proceed because it seemed to be the only way to answer some of the questions raised in the report.
“When we’ve looked at the material, we will decide whether there is a reasonable suspicion of corrupt conduct. We will then consider whether we will use our coercive powers,” he said.
“Almost certainly the answer is yes because there are some answers that are perfectly obvious from the Auditor-General’s report, that require someone getting in the witness box and being cross-examined to explain behaviour and explain decisions.”
Mr Adams said the commission had gathered about 80 per cent of the material required, including 30,000 documents related to this one transaction, and would obtain interviews and other material from the Auditor-General in about a week.
“It’s not impossible, of course, that our request to the public will produce further material that we will need to examine,” he said.
Asked whether he had enough resources to pursue investigations of this nature, Mr Adams said the relative cost was small.
“When you talk about my costs of investigations, they are trivial compared with the cost of some of these tenders,” he said.
“The Campbell Primary School tender was $17.5 million. The amount spent on investigating could be very small compared to the public interest in ensuring that this kind of thing did not happen.”
Mr Adams said the investigation could include the sale of land, saying it was a fraught issue in the ACT.
“The sale of land is an issue that comes up more than once in complaints,” he said.
“I might say we have not yet had a complaint that has moved to the investigation stage once we have examined its basis.”
Mr Adams said there would not be a closing date for submissions from the construction industry.
Despite Canberra firm Manteena being selected in 2020 as the preferred tender for the Campbell Primary project, the contract went to multinational Lendlease after the weighted evaluation criteria used in government tenders were, in effect, re-weighted and re-prioritised.
The Integrity Commission said the Auditor-General highlighted repeated departures from consistent recommendations of the tender evaluation teams about the superior bid, resulting in another otherwise unsuccessful tenderer being offered the contract.
The Auditor-General also found that the overall process did not comply with proper practices and gave rise to unidentified conflicts of interest and communications with tenderers that were not appropriate, controlled or adequately documented.