Author: Niall Hearty 29 April 2021
Niall Hearty of financial crime specialists Rahman Ravelli considers the allegations.
Anti-corruption campaign group Transparency International has claimed that one in five government Covid contracts awarded between February and November 2020 require urgent investigation.
The group says that a fifth of all such contracts showed warning signs of corruption, which it blames on a seriously flawed arrangement that saw companies bidding for contracts given priority due to their political connections.
This, according to Transparency International, has “damaged trust in the integrity of the pandemic response”. It is calling on the government to name the companies awarded public money through this “VIP lane’’ process, which was created by the Cabinet Office and the Department of Health and Social Care in the early stages of the pandemic. The government has so far refused to name the companies, due to what it calls “commercial confidentiality”.
Transparency International UK has said its analysis indicated “apparent systemic biases in the award of PPE contracts that favoured those with political connections to the party of government in Westminster”, although this has been denied by civil servants and government ministers.
It says it has identified 73 Covid-related contracts that would normally be viewed as having “red flags’’ – warning signs - of possible corruption, such as the company being politically connected. It says it knows of 27 PPE or testing contracts worth £2.1 billion that were awarded to firms with Conservative Party and contracts worth £255 million that were given to companies that had only been incorporated in the previous 60 days. Many of the contracts were awarded without competitive tender.
Litigation has already been commenced against the government in relation to some of the Covid contracts that it awarded last year. Those claims centre on the issue of whether the contracts were awarded without competitive tender. Additional claims that contracts have been awarded due to a “VIP Lane” will certainly raise further suspicions regarding government decisions relating to its pandemic response, and could lead to further litigation. There have been increasing calls for more transparency in the government’s decision-making process in a bid to highlight any corruption that exists.