Law on public tenders

Ivan Pilip

In recent months the minority Social Democrat government has come under fierce criticism for sidestepping public tenders and - or so says the opposition - awarding big contracts to firms of its choice. The Lower House of Parliament on Thursday approved an amendment to the law which should put an end to that. Daniela Lazarova has the story:

In its present form the law on public tenders contains an article which states that the government is not bound to hold a public tender when making decisions "under pressing circumstances". Critics say that during their term in office Social Democrat ministers repeatedly used this loophole to award big contracts to firms of their choice without having to answer for their decision. For instance the defense ministry signed over 1,000 contracts without a public tender, from a total of 1,700. Now the Lower House has redefined the "pressing circumstances" article to "emergencies and national disasters" - pertaining to situations in which public health or vast material assets are under threat. Freedom Union deputy Ivan Pilip, who drafted the amendment, explains why it was necessary to change this particular article:

"This article was also criticized from abroad, primarily by the European Union .And I think that the word "misuse" is appropriate in this case because there is no doubt that in some very specific situation -for instance if you need to buy tents for people whose homes have been damaged in a flood - you obviously cannot lose time with a public tender which takes several weeks or months to decide but if it is something like the construction of a highway -which in one particular case was on the agenda for more than 10 years - you can definitely wait another month in order to have a transparent and optimal decision on the table."

Now, as you say, this "exceptions" article has been misused rather heavily in recent years. Was it not possible to amend the law sooner? This seems like closing the stable door after the horse has bolted.

"Well, it is important for the future as well because any government can have the tendency to misuse such a law. We did try to change the law sooner but we were not strong enough to do so."

Now I believe that only the Social Democrats voted against it in Thursday's vote - are you confident that this will give the bill a smooth passage through the Senate?

"In the Senate there shouldn't be a problem because the coalition has close to a majority of the votes and I think that together with some of the independent senators we can push it through. Let us not forget that even the Civic Democrats supported this amendment so I hope that there will be no problems in the Senate. The problem is, as you said, that it comes somewhat late -but better now than never."

Can it be approved before the June general elections?

"Yes, I think so. And it should be valid within a month."

Isn't it rather a coincidence that the amendment comes at a time when people are saying that they believe corruption has increased over the past four years. Why do these things always come before the general elections - I mean this is the kind of law that people want isn't it?

"Well, definitely some things are more important before the elections or more visible but on the other hand we first proposed this change of law a year and a half ago. I think that it not really important whether it happens before or after the elections. The important thing is that the loophole shouldn't have been there - we tried to change it several times before this and it is good that we have finally succeeded."