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No answers on when sole source Covid-19 tech contracts will go out to tender

Denis Pitcher, fintech advisor, with David Burt, the Premier (File photograph)

A string of questions about when competitive tenders will be put out for three Covid-19 technology contracts have been stonewalled by the Government.

The contracts — for software to manage the effects of the pandemic — were earlier awarded without a tender process to a company co-owned by the Premier’s fintech adviser and will cost taxpayers $3.6 million.

Michael Dunkley, the shadow health minister, last week branded the payout as “very excessive”.

He said: “$3.6 million is way over the top … it is a lot of money for a couple of computer programmes.

“I’m not downplaying the work that was done, but that’s a lot of money, especially for a country that’s broke.”

The figures were obtained under public access to information by The Royal Gazette.

The breakdown released by the Ministry of Health for payments to resPartner, co-owned by Denis Pitcher and which trades as resQwest, was for April 2020 to March this year.

There has been no sign of a request for proposals for any further work on the Government’s Procurement Notices and Contract Awards website.

The Gazette asked the health ministry on February 8 when RFPs would be issued for the three contracts to ensure value for money for taxpayers.

But officials have failed to answer the question, despite repeated e-mails and phone calls.

The Pati response from the health ministry included spreadsheets that showed that resPartner would be paid $2.4 million for the financial year 2021-22 and that it was paid $1.2 million the previous financial year.

The total amount broke down as $2 million for a Covid-19 test booking system, $1.3 million for a travel authorisation web portal and $300,000 for vaccine appointments software.

Almost $1.5 million of the total $3.6 million was in estimated payments for the period August 2021 to March 2022.

Kim Wilson, the health minister, told Parliament on July 2 last year that the Government had a “month to month” contract with resPartner and that “a request for proposal to continue this programme had commenced”.

But her comments to MPs came two weeks after a Request for Quotations for a “cloud-based pandemic administration software package” was cancelled by the Ministry of Health.

The June 18, 2021 cancellation notice was listed on the procurement notices and contract awards website and showed that the RFQ was abandoned “in its entirety without award” because of the “economic or technical parameters of the project having changed fundamentally”.

A ministry spokeswoman said this month that resPartner was hired in March 2021 to provide the vaccination programme software because of the “successful Covid test booking system” it had already set up.

She added: “On top of this, resPartner delivered a digital vaccination and PCR certificates as well as the SafeKey programme at no additional cost beyond that of the vaccination programme. ”

The Pati disclosure showed that the Government’s Office of Project Management and Procurement refused to give retroactive approval for a waiver for the tender process for the travel authorisation contract.

But its director said resPartner would have to be paid because the work had been done.

The records also revealed that Mr Pitcher’s conflict of interest, as the Premier’s chief fintech adviser, was flagged up to the OPMP after the travel authorisation portal contract was awarded to resPartner.

Mr Dunkley said: “The conflict of interest should have been made public when it happened.

“I’m very disturbed by this matter because when Premier Burt was the Opposition leader, he continually talked about following the rules of procurement, as he should have.

“He is now just pushing it aside under his own leadership. It’s totally unacceptable.”

A health ministry spokeswoman claimed on February 10, in response to a question about Mr Dunkley’s criticism, that the ministry had issued “incorrect information” under Pati about the amount paid to resPartner.

The spokeswoman claimed only $2.7 million had been paid to the firm to date — and that an investigation was under way into why incorrect information was shared.

Breakdown of $3.6 million resPartner payments

The records released by the Ministry of Health under Pati show payments to resPartner of:

$1,194,175.50 between July 2020 and March 2021, comprised of $641,017.50 for the test booking system, $433,100.50 for the travel authorisation portal and $120,057.50 for vaccine appointment software.

$934,897.53 between April and July 2021 for vaccine appointments.

• an estimated $1,468,000 for August 2021 to March 2022, comprised of $880,000 for test booking, $530,000 for travel authorisation and $58,000 for vaccine appointments.

Those payments total $3,597,073.03.

Despite repeated requests since then for a detailed breakdown of payments for the past two years to show how the $2.7 million figure was reached, no further records have been provided.

The spokeswoman said the Government had paid resQwest about $2.67 million to date — more than $1.03 million for travel authorisation forms and in excess of $1.63 million for testing and vaccines.

Mr Pitcher became the chief fintech adviser to David Burt in January 2019 and was in the post when the contracts for software to manage the pandemic were awarded.

He has been an unpaid adviser since April last year.