In the second half of 2020, the Ministry of Health conducted two public procurement procedures for equipment of COVID hospitals in the military complexes “Zemun ekonomija” in Belgrade and “Rasina” in Kruševac. The procurements were conducted one after the other and both procedures were conducted as negotiated procedures without prior publication due to extreme urgency. The reason for conducting this non-transparent procedure with limited competition was broadly used at the time and concerned the epidemiological situation caused by the coronavirus, with the addition of a short deadline for the completion of hospitals for which the equipment was procured.

The contracting authority first procured equipment for these hospitals, and only two months later decided to procure the “remaining” equipment. In the meantime, the contracting authority concluded an annex to the first contract (worth about 40% of the original contract) in order to procure “additional” equipment. All in all, close to 3 billion dinars were spent on the complete equipping of both hospitals, and the contracts in both procedures were awarded to the same supplier – “Magna pharmacia” d.o.o. Belgrade.

The public procurement procedures in question are one in a series of examples of non-transparent procurement of health institutions equipping in the context of the coronavirus epidemic where various contracting authorities abused the negotiated procedure. It is obvious that in this particular case there was no urgency that would require conducting a negotiated procedure without prior publication; with better planning, the contracting authority could have procured all necessary equipment in a timely manner with (and perhaps even without) shortened deadlines.

Thus, due to the alleged haste and complete lack of transparency, there is a reasonable suspicion that the contracting authority favored the said supplier to whom contracts were awarded in both procedures. This suspicion is reinforced by the fact that the State Audit Institution in its report found that the contracting authority did not specify in the tender documentation the required characteristics, units of measure and technical specifications, nor did it provide a section for unit prices (within the set of goods) for goods totaling 533,8 million dinars. This raises the question of how the contracting authority determined the estimated value, and how did it determine that certain goods offered by the selected bidder were appropriate.

Finally, the suspicion that said bidder was favored is reinforced by the fact that the contracting authority, although obliged to do so by law, did not publish a notice of contract changes on the Public Procurement Portal. And those changes, as we have seen, were not insignificant at all.

Anyhow, by restricting competition in a negotiated procedure, but also by not dividing the subject of procurement into several lots according to the type of goods, the contracting authority spent significantly more taxpayers’ funds than was really necessary.