Tendering rules ‘set aside’ to speed up Waterford project

Waterford’s city manager has said his organisation deliberately set aside tendering rules in order to deliver a new multimillion-euro visitor centre on time.

City manager Michael Walsh said there was no question of companies getting work on the basis of favouritism and that he believed the city council still got value for money.

Mr Walsh accepted the findings in an internal auditor’s report that found a significant number of cases where proper procurement procedures were not followed.

Of particular concern to the auditors was money the council spent on the €8m Waterford Crystal visitors centre, which is leased back to WWRD.

Mr Walsh said when it decided to fund the construction of the centre the European tendering process for contracts in excess of €50,000 was too slow to stick to.

“‘Bending the rules’ isn’t the language I would like to use. We weren’t fully compliant is the point the auditor is making... and I accept that. I want to be clear about this, in the circumstances we very deliberately decided that we were not going to be fully compliant but we did ensure, I can assure you, that there was competitive tendering,” he said.

Mr Walsh was responding to a news report on the audit which highlighted significant instances where the city council did not follow proper tendering rules.

The audit report looked at €4.9m worth of spending and found proper procedures were not followed in €4.3m of this expenditure.

Mr Walsh told local radio station WLR FM that the European tender process could take up to three months and it could not adhere to that schedule. He said that in other instances highlighted by the auditors, including repairs to Rice Bridge, there was very specific work involved.

“There was no question of people getting jobs on the basis of favour or otherwise,” he said.

Separately it emerged that the council’s breach of proper procurement rules denied it access to a portion of European grant funding that had been approved for the project.

Mr Walsh said the council did not have to return the money as it had not drawn it down.

The Southern and Regional Assembly stopped €218,952 from the council’s development fund allocation because the projects it was to fund did not comply with European rules.

Under this scheme the money is spent by councils on the assumption that it will be repaid with a European development grant.

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