A tender awarded to a company that placed a bid over €250,000 higher than the cheapest compliant bidder for mechanical, electrical and finishing works at the Rabat Primary School will see the Foundation for Tomorrow’s Schools forking out over a quarter of a million extra euros for the school’s completion.
The issue boils down to a last-minute change in specifications for the temperature of the light bulbs to be used at the school, one which will cost the state coffers dearly and which appears to have placed one contractor at an advantage over another.
It transpires that the lowest, and hence most competitive, bidder fulfilling the project’s brief, FES Projects Ltd, was disqualified from the bidding process not because of any of the standard clarification requests dealt with by the company over the adjudication process but, rather, for a new reason that appears to have come out of the blue – the temperature of the light bulbs to be supplied for the school.
While the contract’s original specifications had called for the supply of light bulbs at a colour temperature of 4500k, the Department of Contracts turned around and stipulated a new, lower temperature of 4000k. The bulb’s temperature indicates how white or yellow the light emitted from the bulb is. The change in temperature specifications meant the contract was awarded to the highest bidder, AG Installations, which will cost the taxpayer over €250,000.
What had the process observers flummoxed was the fact that the original specifications for the bulbs in question not only recommended the 4500k temperature but also stipulated that the bulbs could have been selected from a wide range of temperatures and were not limited to a temperature of 4000k, as they were by the end of the bidding process.
It is clear that, in order to secure the contract, the lowest bidder, FES Projects, would not have had an issue with rectifying the colour temperature of the light bulbs to have been supplied, a move that could have saved FTS over a quarter of a million euros.
But the company did not have a chance to alter its bid as it was disqualified from the process for having offered bulbs at a temperature of 4500k, and not of 4000k.
Instead, FTS will now be forking out over €250,000 more for the finishing works on the Rabat school after a higher bidder, AG Installations, was awarded the contract after the changing of the light bulb temperature goalposts.
Although throughout the adjudication process the Department of Contracts had requested a number of clarifications from bidders, it had not done so when it came to the tender’s ultimate determining factor: the temperature of the light bulbs to be supplied.
While there is an appeal process for bidders who feel they have been aggrieved by the department’s decisions, there appears to be a lack of confidence in the appeals board, whose arbitrators are not technical people and rely on the technical advice of others at the department such as, in this case, the same people who had recommended the disqualification of the lowest bidder.