Generalitat was overcharged €8m for respirators and is yet to recovered the money

Analysis of public contracts during the pandemic uncovers irregularities, millions lost and services that were maintained when it was not the right time, according to the Audit Office

3 min
ICU of Vall de Hebron Hospital

BarcelonaTwo years after the beginning of the pandemic, the mistakes that were made in terms of public procurement are beginning to emerge. The public auditor has detected numerous formal irregularities in the over 200 contracts it has analysed (emergency and urgent tenders) that were made during those months. It has also found inconsistencies in the dates, services that were invoiced and never arrived and others that, on the other hand, were maintained over a longer period of time than the contract allowed.

Among the most flagrant cases is that the Generalitat was overcharged €8m for respirators by "a foreign sole proprietorship which employs a single worker" and whose purpose, moreover, "does not include the activity under contract". As explained by the Generalitat Treasury, the "computer system for compensation of invoices" failed and "€7.9m were paid to the supplier, incorrectly". The Auditor also states that "in July 2021 the Catalan Health Institute sent an email to the supplier asking the outstanding debt to be settled". Nevertheless, the auditor states that "at the date of the end of the fieldwork this amount had not been repaid"

The report by this body also reveals two important points related to the management of the Emergency Medical Service, the SEM, which during the pandemic multiplied its task as a public informer, taking on track and trace. According to the Auditor, in the contract awarded by the SEM for the monitoring of positive contacts, the system to remunerate the contractor was established according to each wave's peak, because the volume of professionals changed when the number of cases increased. This calculation had to be made weekly, according to the contract, using Health data, but, "in practice, the Health department did not send the information". Instead, the Health Service and the company agreed each week on the number of staff needed.

It also highlights that during the eight months of the contract, the contractor charged almost €12m without itemising invoices, as required by the contract. In addition, the report states that between "the months of October 2020 and January 2021 there was a progressive reduction in the number of monthly telephone calls by 26.3% but that, on the contrary, the size of the contract, in terms of personnel assigned to the service, increased by 95.2%". The SEM justified that if the Health data had been followed, more resources would still have been needed, a fact that –according to the Union– is very plausible. Even so, this body maintains that "the managers did not make the expected calls" and that, in addition, the review of pay slips revealed that some workers received two or three salary supplements at the same time. In addition, many were on sick leave but were still billed to the SEM by the supplier. "[SEM] paid a higher amount than the amount that corresponded to the services actually rendered," the report concludes.s

And still more errors. In the modification of the SEM contract with Ferrovial –for an amount of over €21m and a term of two years open to extension–, the Auditor points out that deadlines were missed and that, in addition, two of the modifications (for a combined amount of €8.37m) were made after the expenses had already been incurred.

The Auditor also points out a series of awards with large economic deviations. Thus, in two contracts there was a deviation between the total cost of the service and the award of €570,005 and €438,206, respectively. In another contract, the company Puente China España Comercio did not deliver to the Institut Català de la Salut the agreed amounts: 422,400 FFP2 masks less than agreed were delivered, at a cost of €206,976.

PCRs arriving before they were formally requested

Thus, the report includes dozens of errors and irregularities in the procedures: for example, the Consorci Sanitari del Parc Taulí de Sabadell claims reception of the supply of several PCR tests in the hospital was signed on March 19, 2021 but "in this document it is stated that it was supplied eight months before the signature". Also that the ICS Vall d'Hebron signed a contract "for works and supplies" on December 30, 2020 to be executed within one month (as required by law) but that, instead, "at the date of the end of the fieldwork, September 30, 2021, the execution had not begun".

The analysis of the documents also highlights that many contracts lack documentation, licenses, European certificates or invoices. It is also revealed that the then Department of Employment, Welfare and Families made up to eight public contracts for which it had no competence. In addition, many of the invoices were paid after the deadline, some services were maintained despite the fact that urgent and emergency contracts do not foresee it or contract modifications were made on the fly when, in fact, a new contract should have been made, in order to do it correctly according to the law governing public procurement.