A construction companies' cartel to share out public works

2 min
Works on a stretch of road in Vallirana.

BarcelonaThe National Commission for Markets and Competition (CNMC) has sanctioned on Friday twelve companies with a total of 61.3 million euros, among which there are subsidiaries of the construction companies of Acciona, ACS, OHL, Ferrovial, FCC, Elecnor, Copcisa and Sacyr, for an infringement constituting a cartel to divide the tenders called by the Ministry of Development between 2014 and 2018 to fix roads. In addition, Competition prohibits them from contracting with the public administration for an indefinite period of time. Although it is not the first time that fines of this style are placed (in 2019 a similar fine was placed on a cartel that monopolised Adif's tenders), this decision is especially significant because it reveals a way of proceeding that completely alters the rules of competition and that has condemned dozens of companies that acted legally and saw how, time and again, they were left out of public tenders.

The CNMC investigation, initiated due to the complaint of a private individual, has shown that the sanctioned companies met to agree on the prices they would present and systematically participated in all the agreed tenders. Between 2014 and 2019, the participating companies were awarded 71 tenders out of a total of 101 taken out by the Ministry of Public Works related to the provision of services for the conservation and operation of the State road network. The total amount of the awards to companies in the cartel exceeded 530 million euros, which represents 63% of the total amount awarded by the ministry for the conservation services of the state road network.

These are very important figures that cast a very long shadow over public procurement, especially in the Ministry of Public Works during the time when Mariano Rajoy's PP governed. Precisely, next month the justice is expected to issue the sentence on the so-called B box of the PP, a system of irregular financing based on commissions in exchange for public works. The CNMC investigation does not go into the possible political connections of the cartel, but it is inevitable to connect it with the fact that the PP is the epicenter of public corruption in Spain.

In any case, the CNMC's efforts to unmask these practices and set exemplary sanctions are to be applauded. But the priority must be to prevent large companies and their subsidiaries from taking advantage of their privileged position to suck up most of the public resources earmarked for public works. In view of the arrival of European funds, the administration has to fine-tune the mechanisms to ensure a transparent and equitable distribution that takes into account the entire business fabric, especially SMEs. In this sense, the best solution would be to establish an independent body to monitor both the granting of funds and the control of their use, i.e. to ensure that the money is used for the goals set by the EU and not for anything else.