Watchdog's concern over direct provision centre contracts

Watchdog's concern over direct provision centre contracts
Protests over the direct provision system, which has come under the C&AG's spotlight. Pic:

C&AG report says no formal procurement procedure in place

The latest report from the State spending watchdog, the Comptroller & Auditor General (C&AG), has raised a number of concerns about contracts awarded by the Department of Justice & Equality for direct provision for asylum seekers.

At the end of 2015, there were 35 direct provision centres used by the Department of Justice & Equality to house asylum seekers. 28 of these were commercial centres – often hotels, hostels or guesthouses – which have been paid more than €251m over the five years to the end of 2015.

The C&AG report says the department does not use formal procurement procedures for suppliers of these private centres, instead using its website to seek expressions of interest. "This increases the risk that the best price and quality of accommodation and services is not being obtained," the C&AG report says, adding that the lack of a competitive procurement process could potentially leave the department open to claims.

The report also says the department did not provide evidence to show how it evaluated those who responded. The department argued that its method falls under EU 'negotiated procedure' procurement rules, which are allowed in limited circumstances, but the C&AG disagrees with this. The department argued that a lengthy procurement process could leave asylum seekers homeless.

The watchdog also said these contracts, awarded without a competitive process, were not included in an annual statement required to be submitted to the C&AG and the Department of Public Expenditure & Reform, though the department did not accept that they should be included.

The C&AG also highlights vague wording in some areas of the contracts which set out the services to be delivered by direct provision suppliers. It also points to the lack of performance measures and the fact that there is no provision in the contracts for penalties for under-performance.

The C&AG says one in six of those living in direct provision centres have been granted status allowing them to remain in Ireland, adding that the department should assess the best way of permanently accommodating these people.

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