“HAWK-EYE” – procurement of vehicles for control of illegally parked vehicles (2019)

In summer of 2019, the public utility company “Parking servis” from Belgrade conducted an open public procurement procedure for purchase of vehicles for the control of illegally parked vehicles. In this procedure, the contracting authority violated one of the basic public procurement principles – the principle of ensuring competition, but also the provision of the law according to which the contracting authority cannot use or refer to technical specifications or standards denoting goods of a particular production.

Namely, as per the established technical characteristics, the subject of this public procurement was an all-wheel drive off-road vehicle, manufactured in 2019, with maximum length 4600 mm, minimum height 1670 mm, wheelbase 2700-2800 mm and minimum ground clearance 200 mm. In addition to these key technical characteristics, the contracting authority requested other characteristics (engine displacement, engine power, gearbox type, number of doors, color, etc.), as well as the minimum additional equipment that the vehicle should have.

With this combination of precisely determined technical characteristics, the contracting authority practically “drew” the vehicle “Land Rover Discovery Sport”,[1] which is exactly the vehicle that was purchased after the procedure was completed. The fact that no other vehicle possessed the required technical characteristics can be checked by a simple search of all-wheel drive off-road vehicles produced in 2019. Some vehicles of other manufacturers from this category of vehicles (BMW, Renault, Nissan, Toyota, Mazda…) met only some of the characteristics required by the tender documentation, but none of them satisfied all.[2]

The fact that the tender documentation required the technical characteristics of a specific vehicle model in this particular case is even more interesting, since there is only one official distributor of “Land Rover” vehicles in Serbia – the company “BRITISH MOTORS” d.o.o. Belgrade: this distributor was one of the members of the group of bidders who were the only ones to submit a bid and to whom a contract was awarded. And perhaps even more interesting is the fact that the legal representative of the company “BRITISH MOTORS” is Ostoja Mijailović, a member of the ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) and the president of the “Partizan” basketball club.

The membership of a bidder in a political party is not illegal in itself, nor does it represent a basis for non-participation of this bidder in the public procurement procedure. However, this fact, along with the fact that the contracting authority favored that particular bidder through technical specifications, significantly strengthens the suspicion that in this particular case there was an illegal agreement between the contracting authority and the bidder.

Having all this in mind, it should not be surprising that only one bid was submitted in this high value procurement procedure, and that, despite obvious irregularities, none of the potential bidders tried to change the disputed technical characteristics through a request for clarification of tender documentation or a request for protection of rights. It should also not be surprising that the value of the selected bid was only slightly lower than the estimated value (by about 42,000.00 dinars).

In addition to the indisputable favoring of a specific bidder, i.e. the exact vehicle he offered, in this particular case one could raise the question of purpose of procuring expensive and uneconomical vehicles designed for the off-road terrains for the control of improperly parked vehicles on city streets. In its press release the contracting authority stated that off-road vehicles with these characteristics were procured because they are reliable in operation and because they can provide stability of cameras and sensitive computer equipment for control and recording of improperly parked vehicles in uneven road conditions with frequent braking. However, the contracting authority failed to explain why other, significantly cheaper and more economical vehicles with slightly different characteristics could not meet these conditions.

The manner in which this public procurement was conducted and the bidder close to the government was favored is one of the main reasons why the number of submitted bids in public procurement procedures in Serbia is extremely small.

In that sense, the current situation in public procurement in Serbia is perhaps best reflected in the statement of Goran Vesić, Deputy Mayor of Belgrade, who said that the state intentionally procured exactly these vehicles in order to show its authority, and that arrogantly parked jeeps would be met by vehicles “which will show the full strength of the state”.

Indeed, in this specific case the state has undoubtedly, for the umpteenth time, shown its “strength” and “authority”. “Strength” and “authority” to procure uneconomical off-road vehicles through the obviously rigged tender in order to control improperly parked cars on the city streets, while favoring the company whose owner is a member of the ruling party. “Strength” and “authority” of which other market participants are aware and due to which none of the potential bidders in the subject procedure even considered submitting a bid or possibly disputing the tender documentation.

[1] Clearance 211 mm, wheelbase 2741 mm, length 4599 mm and height 1724 mm.

[2] Websites such as www.auto-data.net or www.cars-data.com/ contain databases with specifications for most of the vehicles from almost all manufacturers.