In the middle of 2021, within the project “Reconstruction of four clinical centers in Serbia”, the Ministry of Health conducted a public procurement procedure for equipment for the Clinical Center of Serbia (KCS), estimated at 12 billion dinars without VAT. The subject of this procedure was the procurement of as many as 602 items of various functions and purposes – from the most modern medical equipment (CT scanners, magnetic resonance devices, ultrasound devices…), through standard medical equipment (microscopes, wheelchairs, infusion stands…), to non-medical equipment (bar stools, bookcases, coffee grinders, technical service tools etc.). 

The contracting authority, however, did not divide such a complex subject of procurement into several lots, but shaped it as one whole. Therefore, the contracting authority significantly limited the competition since the bidder had to offer all the required goods in order to be able to participate in such a procedure at all. As there is certainly no bidder who can offer all the required goods or a bidder who has a license to place on the market all medical devices that the client procured in this particular case, and since the vast majority of these items on the market are offered by different bidders, the only logical conclusion is that the procurement in question should have been divided into lots. That would almost certainly lead to a larger number of bids and, consequently, to much more favorable offers. The contracting authority’s argument was, however, that the decision on the single subject of procurement was guided by the principle of economies of scale and the expectation of a cheaper offer, and that market research revealed that there is a large number of potential bidders able to meet the requests and fulfill contractual obligations. The fact that the contracting authority was wrong is certainly confirmed by the outcome of the procedure in question: only one bid was submitted (by a group of nine bidders), which was very slightly below the estimated value of the procurement (11,999,312,969.76 dinars without VAT).

Inappropriately short deadline for the bid submission in the procedure with such a complex subject of public procurement certainly contributed to the participation of only one bidder in the subject procedure. Namely, for submission of bids the contracting authority determined the minimum deadline determined by law – 35 days from the day of publishing the public invitation. In accordance with the Public Procurement Law, besides the fact that when determining the bids submission deadlines minimum deadlines must be respected, the contracting authority is obliged to take into account that these deadlines are appropriate for the preparation of an acceptable bid, depending on the complexity of the case. In this particular case, an acceptable offer could be submitted only by bidders who had information in advance about the procurement in question or who had already participated in similar procedures, so they were somewhat prepared. And the procedures with similarly shaped subject of public procurement, if there are any, are not very common. Therefore, the contracting authority further restricted the competition by setting an inappropriately short deadline.

In all this, while trying to justify the unique subject of procurement and the minimum deadline for bids submission, the contracting authority mostly referred to the need to equip KCS quickly and completely, with the best possible equipment that a tertiary health institution must have. We believe that after so many decades of waiting for the reconstruction of the KCS building and countless delays in the completion of works, several months of delay caused by the division of procurement subject into lots (taking into account the time to review and evaluate more bids, and to eventually complete initiated protection procedures), would certainly not be a problem, especially if we take into account that we would definitely get better quality equipment at a lower price. In that sense, it is very interesting to see how the realization of this procurement contract will unfold in the future. The question is how the equipment will be delivered, in what time intervals, and whether the obligations regarding the warranty period will be met, as well as other obligations from the contract in question.