Sector News
Refugee Crisis – Corruption More Likely When Public Procurement Processes are Circumvented

The refugee crisis is rightly dominating the news this week and I’m sure I feel like many people – desperately sorry for the individuals involved, but with a sense of helplessness that the issues just feel too complex and difficult to have a definite personal view on the topic.

Of course we should help. But… how many people can Europe take? How many can an individual country within Europe take before it has a serious impact on that country’s economic or social fabric? Could the UK or Germany cope with 100,000 migrants or refugees? Yes, almost certainly. A million? 5 million? 10 million? There must be a level that is not feasible.

It also makes us wonder if this issue might be what ultimately either breaks the EU or drives the institution towards being more of a true single state. It looked like it could be currency issues that achieved this but perhaps it will be this crisis.

Countries such as Hungary and Slovakia have made comments about not wanting to take in Muslims, and in return, the Commission has threatened them with cutting off funding and other measures. It’s a bit like Greece and the financial bail-out. Countries may have to decide whether they accept they are in the club, abide by the rules, and move towards being a less than autonomous state within the EU, or get out (or at least semi-withdraw).

All this rather overshadows mundane procurement issues. Yet the crisis must be putting pressure on a whole range of institutions, procurement and supply chain processes. Where it is public bodies who have the need to acquire goods, services or works in a true emergency environment, then the usual public processes can be over-ridden. As the 2014 public procurement Directive says:

In view of the detrimental effects on competition, negotiated procedures without prior publication of a contract notice should be used only in very exceptional circumstances. This exception should be limited to cases where publication is either not possible, for reasons of extreme urgency brought about by events unforeseeable for and not attributable to the contracting authority”.

Well, this certainly feels like an exceptional event and is just as certainly not attributable to any contracting authority. So if  cities or central governments have to spend money urgently on issues around the refugee crisis, they don’t have to worry about OJEU adverts!

However, whilst this makes perfect sense, it does of course open up the doors to corruption and fraud. Whether that is low-level, perhaps profiteering by suppliers or small-scale bribery of officials, or something bigger and more organised, it is more likely to happen when money is being spent without the usual control processes. Contracting authorities, audit bodies and others need to keep an eye on these issues.

We saw an example of this back in 2014. Whilst the corruption was not limited to contracts linked with refugees, such as accommodation for them, that formed an element of a major fraud in Italy. As the Washington Post reported in December 2014,

“According to the Italian news agency ANSA, a mafia network run by Massimo Carminati — known in Italy as the “last king of Rome” — makes most of its revenue by extorting money destined for the country’s Roma population and immigrants.   The documents explain how the mafia bribes officials to gain access to profitable public work contracts. According to Italian investigators, the mafia’s network reached as far as into the mayor’s office, where high-ranking officials were allegedly bribed with payouts of as much as $18,000 a pop. In return, mafia members won valuable contracts to manage the accommodation of refugees, the city’s waste collection and even parks”.

Anyway, worrying about fraud and corruption is probably not at the top of the politicians agenda as they face this terrible refugee problem. But it should not be forgotten – this is still taxpayers’ money that is being spent to support the people involved in the crisis.