'Court stenographers costing taxpayer too much' [Cyprus Mail]
(Cyprus Mail Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) By Constantinos Psillides
THE taxpayer is having to fork out €300,000 a year for court shorthand services supplied by a private company as a result of the delayed tender process by the Department of Information Technology Services (DITS), according to Auditor-general Odysseas Michaelides.
In his letter on June 14, addressing Finance Minister Harris Georgiades, Michaelides also accused DITS of drafting tender that suited the current provider by including provisions only it could deliver.
"The DITS has been stalling the tender process because it insists in including provisions/terms that in our opinion limit competition. As we have repeatedly pointed out to the DITS director, the object is to procure services that will achieve a specific result i.e. speed and accuracy of court stenographers. Terms and conditions such as the qualifications of the trainers and the project's manager- as well as software specifications – may limit competition," wrote Michaelides in his letter. He also slammed DITS for driving up the cost for temporally employing stenographers.
In his letter, the Auditor-general notes that DITS has agreed with the company to employ stenographers to operate the system until the issue with the tender was resolved, but had to renew the agreement following further delays.
Those stenographers were employed at €115 per hour for 2009 and 2010, and €117 an hour for 2011 and 2012. The Auditor-general's office declared the cost too high, estimating that these services should be acquired at a cost of €70 per hour.
The cost was reduced for 2013 to €105 per hour but with no end in sight, Michaelides slammed DITS for the delay. The cost for these services amounts up to €300,000 annually.
"The government will have to acquire shorthand services from the successful bidder at a higher cost than estimated due to the lack of competition. The cost has been set by the only company that could meet the terms included in the tender by the DITS, i.e. a shorthand system in Greek and a sufficient number of trained stenographers, when the shorthand services were first requested," he said.
DITS director Costas Agrotis rejects the accusations, shifting the blame for the delay to the government's austerity policy.
"The finance ministry rejected our budget request in 2013 and finally approved it 2014. We had to start from scratch but the process in ongoing and will conclude shortly," Agrotis told the Cyprus Mail, adding that when his department drafted the tender they weren't aware that only one company could meet the conditions included.
"We believed that there would be some interest from Greece-based companies. We didn't have one company in mind when we drafted the tender."
Agrotis said DITS could not have tailored the tender to suit the needs of a certain company, arguing that the terms and conditions have to go through a number of government agencies – including legal services – which are not under DITS control.
Agrotis said that his department's only goal was to resolve the issue as soon as possible, adding that he would officially respond to the Auditor-general's letter when he receives it.
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