Stories by Claire McEntee,

Calls for tender complaint role

Industry group NZICT is calling for the establishment of a "procurement ombudsman" to resolve complaints about the handling of government tenders. Chief executive Brett O'Riley said technology firms had for a long time felt unable to pursue complaints for fear of harming their relationships with public sector clients. "Issues that the industry have talked about are when a request for information or a request for proposals has been released and there's been no decision, so companies have incurred costs on the basis that something would proceed. But also where the scope [of a tender] has changed in the middle of a process, and situations where there's been breaches in confidentiality." A procurement reform group – which NZICT was a part of – had revised and republished the procurement complaints process. "That's a good start because I'm not sure many in the industry were aware that there is a formal complaints process. That's a good step one, but step two is how do you progress an issue?" NZICT would suggest to the Economic Development Ministry that an ombudsman be set up. The ombudsman job could be a dedicated position or picked up by someone in a similar role, and would apply to all procurement, not just ICT, he said. "Every time there is an issue that takes a while to resolve, that's additional cost to both parties and we want to minimise the number of cases that involve legal costs." Don Christie, spokesman for breakaway lobby group NZ Rise – set up to represent the interests of New Zealand-owned technology firms, said there should be a procurement ombudsman to actively monitor the amount of work and public money that went to New Zealand-based companies. That would help identify whether procurement processes were cutting out local vendors. "It needs to be more pro-active. At the moment we can complain to the Office of the Ombudsmen if we feel there is a problem with process and fairness." The ombudsman could also assess complaints from companies that felt they had been discriminated against. NZ Rise believed the Government's moves to set up public sector-wide purchasing "mega-contracts" for items such as computers and photocopiers, and to deliver shared services to department such as datacentre services discriminated against smaller, local firms. "That prevents those companies from providing specialist knowledge and specialist services. It's good for the one or two people procuring, but it's not good for driving value into government." Clare Curran, Labour's communications spokeswoman, has tabled a private members bill that if passed would establish a commission of inquiry to determine whether the Government could and should have a policy that gave preference to local procurement Ms Curran has said local companies are missing out on large contracts – particularly software licensing contracts.