Public procurement: a defense for taxpayers

Countries urgently need the funds for the recovery plan. But we cannot and should not see the current situation as a “free pass” to dismantle what took a long time to consolidate.

Every year, public authorities devote around 14% of the European Union's GDP to public procurement. There are about two billion euros, invested in services, works and supply of products.

This data, prior to the current COVID-19 pandemic, already shows the dimension of the values ​​involved. But if we think that Member States will soon benefit from the recovery plan Next Generation Europe, and that it is estimated that € 250 billion will be applied precisely through this type of contract, there will be no doubt about the importance of ensuring that investments will be rigorous and transparent.

Driven by the need to respond quickly to the health emergency caused by the coronavirus, many European countries, including Portugal, have already shaken one of the pillars of public procurement legislation: the principle that direct adjustment between the State and suppliers must be avoided. .

They did so to ensure the supply of protective masks, medicines and medical devices, such as ventilators, that could help fight the pandemic and make the difference between the lives or deaths of critically ill patients.

No one will claim that these measures were unnecessary. There was no time to do otherwise. However, the various failures recorded - including the acquisition of lots of equipment of dubious or even useless quality - have only shown that direct agreement should continue to be the exception to the rule.

It is important that this fact is well present in the heads of our government, when they prepare to have, with a wide margin of maneuver, a crucial financial envelope to fight the crisis and relaunch their economies, without being able to lose sight of the goals of combat climate change, digitalization, the growth of the internal market, the modernization of industry, investment in science and innovation and the qualification of populations.

Countries urgently need the funds for the recovery plan. And measures will have to be taken to streamline procedures, including public procurement. But we cannot and should not see the current situation as a “free pass” to dismantle what took a long time to consolidate.

The Community directive on public procurement (2014/24 / EU), is a good diploma, which even contemplates more urgent situations, through the possibility of resorting to an accelerated open procedure. In such cases, it is envisaged that contracting entities may reduce the deadline for submitting applications to just fifteen days.

This possibility can be complemented with measures aimed at relieving the bureaucratic burden of procedures, such as the preferential use of digital contracting, through purchasing centers, or the adoption of mechanisms that allow the use of funds from the recovery plan with other resources Community and national funding sources.

None of this reflects the need for some to proclaim a new public procurement system. On the contrary: there is an urgent need for measures to be taken to ensure that the Directive is effectively enforced by all Member States, and that they are increasingly committed to preventing, unfortunately still frequent, cases of fraud and serious deviations between the product or contracted service and the one provided.

Public procurement, especially when done transparently, is a fundamental mechanism to protect taxpayers' money. The more reliable the system is, the better proposals will emerge - including from small and medium-sized companies, often "crushed" in procedures - and the greater added value will be removed by society.

Getting money to the economy is important. But infinitely more important - I would even say fundamental - is to spend it well.

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