'Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house, not a creature was stirring...except a government office looking to award a lucrative contract without using a competitive bid process. On December 24, the ministry of attorney general's justice services branch quietly announced it wanted to directly award a three-month contract worth up to $48,000 to a Victoria-based firm with an extensive history of advising the government. That contract will see Queenswood Consulting Group Ltd. develop a business plan for a new provincial service that will deliver legal information and advice to the public online.
Under the government's procurement guidelines, the branch would usually have to solicit bids or obtain three quotes for such work. But that process can be avoided by posting a so-called notice of intent on the government's procurement Website - which is what happened last week.
The notice is supposed to provide an opportunity for competitors to challenge a direct award. In this particular case, though, the deadline for that challenge is January 4, 2011 - three days after most people are waking up with New Year's Eve hangovers.
Asked about the appropriateness of posting a notice of intent the day before Christmas, a ministry spokesperson stated, "it was necessary to keep the project moving."
"Most contractors have access to the Internet 24/7. This gives them seven business days" to challenge the award by writing a "brief letter of objection."
But New Democrat critic Leonard Krog says the handling of this direct award is "tantamount to completely and obviously breaching the policy. No one is going to be paying any attention whatsoever between now and New Year's. That's preposterous!"
"If you're going to slide it under the radar, I can't think of a better day when everyone is looking for Santa's sleigh than transparency in government," he continued. "It would be nice for a change if this government actually tried to comply with the spirit of the rules rather as well as its intent."
The following is a complete copy of the aforementioned notice of intent.