Anti-corruption guide cites Northen Ireland theatre rebuild as lesson in bad practice
The handling of bids to rebuild the Lyric Theatre in Belfast has been used as an example of bad practice in a new guide to help public sector officials detect and avoid corruption and bribery.
The Northern Ireland Audit Office, which launches the guide today at a meeting of the Chief Executives' Forum, cited the rebuilding of the south Belfast theatre, referring to an official report that said there was a strong impression of the process being "rigged and manipulated".
The 2013 report by Stormont's Public Accounts Committee (PAC) looked into the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure's (DCAL) handling of the tendering process.
It said there were a number of "completely unacceptable departures from long-established principles" in the awarding of the contract to rebuild the Lyric.
A number of "unexplained adjustments" were made to the tender submissions, including £413,000 being stripped out from one of the tenders.
The cost was later paid in full.
The report said the private sector consultants who produced the tender evaluation report destroyed the documentation promptly after the tender evaluation meeting.
DCAL received a copy of the tender evaluation report but failed to raise any concerns.
The preferred bidder then provided a donation of £150,000 to the Lyric Theatre.
The PAC concluded: "Taking all of the points in the round, the committee is left with a very strong impression that the outcome of the tender process was both rigged and manipulated."
The rebuilding of the Lyric was originally estimated to cost £12.4m, but the final bill soared to £17.8m.
Kieran Donnelly, comptroller and auditor general for Northern Ireland, said: "The nature of much of public sector business carries inherent risks.
"Functions such as procurement, planning, grant administration and regulatory functions are widely recognised as being open to the risk of bribery and corruption.
"This guide provides advice on identifying and mitigating those risks."
He added: "It is essential that all public officials and elected representatives are aware of their responsibilities in countering the risk of bribery and corruption as they undertake their public duties, and that all public sector employers embed the principles of this good practice within their organisations."