VILNIUS - The government office in charge of the Vilnius ring road project has engineered a bidding process in which only one favored company, Panevezio Keliai, could possibly win the contract, anti-corruption officials charge.
They accuse the Vilnius Public Procurement Office of coming up with strange eligibility criteria so the contract was won by their political friends.
Fegda, one of Panevezio Keliai's competitors for the contract, is suing the procurement office over the alleged impartiality. "We cannot go to the second round of the competition because we don't meet the bizarre criterion announced by the Public Procurement Office," Fegda director Arvydas Gribulis said. "It was announced they looked for a company that had already built an object for the price of 87.8 million. I know that there is only one company in Lithuania that meets such a criterion, and it is Panevezio Keliai," he added.
The anti-corruption board got involved after the complaint was made. "We addressed the Public Procurement Office, because we do suspect that the requirements they presented applied only for one particular company," said Laima Ragauskiene, an adviser for the Anti-corruption Commission. "That wouldn't be right, so we started the investigation," she added.
Panevezio Keliai spokesperson Rasa Cebiene said the Public Procurement Office's strict requirements were understandable. "I think the accusation of the [procurement office] being impartial is absurd," she said. "The competition was announced Europe-wide, so any European company that had enough experience to deliver the most qualified services possible could compete for the right to build the ring road," she added.
Cebiene denied that the procurement office prioritized the company because of ties to the Order and Justice Party. "All Lithuanian parties ask for support. If we see that [a] party is concerned with an expansion of transport infrastructure, we support them," Cebiene said.
Remigijus Zemaitaitis, head of the Public Procurement Office and adviser to Mayor Juozas Imbrasas, who belongs to the Order and Justice Party, supported the requirements but denied allegations of party-related favoritism. "We have the same requirements for this object as we had for a ring road in the southern part of Vilnius that Fegda is about to finish together with Kaunas Tiltai," he told Vilniaus Diena.
Gribulis said this was "obviously not true," saying the contractor eligibility criteria were different for the western ring road, also known as the 1A section. Fegda is supported by the Liberal Central Union party.
Cebiene said Fegda's actions have only delayed progress, as the Public Procurement Office has not confirmed yet if the company will work with Kauno Tiltai on the 1A section. "I would say that the way Fegda acts is not really ethical or professional, but maybe the company has some financial problems and tries to win some time," Cebiene said. "It is not fair with respect to other companies, in this case us and Kaunus Tiltai, also, with tax payers as the price of the project is increasing every day. It is all delayed now and the actual work should not start any earlier than next year," Cebiene added.
Panevezio Keliai teamed up with Kaunas Tiltai, which worked with Fegda on construction of the southern ring road. Kaunas Tiltai denied any conflict with Fegda. "Just because we applied for a chance to build the ring road together with Panevezio Keliai does not mean we don't work with Fegda anymore," a Kaunus Tiltai spokesperson said. "It's road-building, it's not politics," she added.
Vladas Butenas, a spokesperson for Public Procurement Office said only that the "Anticorruption Commission asked us to give a detailed account on our work [on the] Vilnius western ring road construction. We can't give any further comments except to say that we will investigate the case."
Lithuanian Ministry of Transport and Communications secretary Rimvydas Gradauskas highlighted the ring road's strategic importance and apologized for the scandal. "The ring road west of Vilnius is of enormous significance in terms of better traffic conditions, money and of reducing the problems of pollution," he said.
The investigation will likely delay works until at least the beginning of 2009.