The procurement process for an upgrade of the Campbell Primary School campus lacked probity and tenderers were not dealt with fairly, impartially and consistently, a damning report from the ACT Auditor-General has found.
In July 2019 the ACT government called for tenders for the construction of new buildings on the campus to accommodate 450 students including a canteen, STEM and small group program facilities, landscaping and refurbishment of the school hall.
Manteena was identified by two tender evaluation teams in three separate reports as the preferred tenderer. The Canberra-based company consistently scored higher against the weighted evaluation criteria and quoted a lower price.
Despite this, Lendlease won the contract for the school in June 2020 after the acting executive group manager of the Education Directorate's business services division made a recommendation to Director-General Katy Haire without adequate reasoning.
The audit found the decision to award the tender was not based on the initial evaluation criteria the government went to market with with, but was based on a reweighted and reprioritised criteria.
It also found that communication with tenderers and other parties was informal, uncontrolled and poorly documented, which undermined the probity of the procurement process.
Manteena chief executive Mark Bauer said his company, as well as about 30 other businesses that contributed to the Manteena tender, were affected by missing out on the $15.5 million contract.
"It's a disappointing outcome and one that clearly was the wrong one," Mr Bauer said.
"Different teams assessed the bids and determined that Manteena's bid was the best value for money and best for the territory."
The acting executive group manager responsible for overturning the tender evaluation teams' decisions said in a comment in the report that they supported the audit's recommendations.
"I'd like to acknowledge the areas identified for process improvement in this proposed report and fully support the recommendations which will serve to strengthen probity and provide the necessary clarity of roles and responsibilities, appropriate documentation and guidance for all parties involved in the procurement process."
An ACT government spokeswoman said the government acknowledged the report and would consider the recommendations seriously as part of its commitment to transparency and accountability.
In justifying the choice to go with Lendlease, the acting executive group manager business services said Lendlease was in a stronger position to manage risks that had arisen from the protracted procurement process based on "long-term factors" and that the best elements of each design could be incorporated into the final project. The audit found both of these factors were unfair to Manteena.
Under oath, the Education Directorate official sought to justify how the tenderer with a higher price and lower score was the best value for money.
"In doing so they effective reweighted and reprioritised the evaluation criteria with which the Territory approached the market and sought tenders," the audit report said.
"There was inadequate documentation to support the recommendation to enter into a contract with Lendlease, as opposed to Manteena."
Mr Bauer said Manteena had completed many construction projects for the ACT government, including an intensive care unit, the Garran COVID surge centre and several schools.
He said Manteena was yet to receive a response from the Education Directorate about the flawed tender process for the Campbell Primary School project.
"I hope [the ACT government] take lessons from this and be the model client that they need to be."
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