This report, prepared by the Secretariat of the Procurement Complaints Committee (PCC) of the European Investment Bank (EIB), provides an overview of the procurement complaints received and handled in the course of 2021, and of the work of the Committee and its Secretariat. It is the third annual report compiled and published on the Procurement Complaints Committee’s activities since its establishment in late 2018 .
In line with good practices of other international financial institutions, project-related procurement complaints submitted to the EIB are handled by the Procurement Complaints Committee, a dedicated, independent and impartial committee, mandated to handle procurement complaints that challenge the Bank’s decision on project procurement procedures under an EIB-financed project outside the EU. This system ensures that the Bank handles project procurement complaints regarding EIB-financed projects effectively and independently. If the complainant is not satisfied with the Bank’s outcome or response, it is entitled to escalate its complaint to the European Ombudsman for alleged maladministration by the Bank.
Nearly four in five procurement complaints (that is 18 out of 23 or 78.3%) were submitted prior to the Bank’s decision (non-objection) as per Table 1. While this number in absolute terms is consistent with 2020 data (20 such procurement complaints out of 31 in 2020), the proportion of procurement complaints submitted prior to the Bank’s decision is higher compared to 2020 (64.6% in 2020 versus 78.3% in 2021). This is due to the lower number of complaints that were received after the Bank’s decision (five in 2021 as opposed to 11 in 2020), resulting in a lower total number of complaints (23 in 2021 compared to 31 in 2020).
In terms of sectors, most complaints concern procurement under projects related to transport and storage, which account for 26% of the complaints (38.7% in 2020), and water supply; sewerage, waste management and remediation activities, which account for 31% of the complaints (35.5% in 2020). Procurement complaints related to electricity, gas, steam and air conditioning supply represent 13% (16.1% in 2020). The breakdown of procurement complaints by sector does not raise particular concerns for any given sector, especially given that the proportions are quite similar to those of 2020.
In terms of regions of operation, most procurement complaints regarded projects in the EU Eastern Neighbourhood (30%) and the enlargement countries (26%), followed by Asia and Latin America (22%). This is consistent with 2020 data where the share of complaints on projects in the enlargement countries and the EU Eastern Neighbourhood was 35.5% each. Complaints on projects in sub-Saharan Africa represented 13% (same as in 2020), while the proportion of complaints for projects in Asia and Latin America increased from 10% in 2020 to 22% in 2021.
The most common allegations were unequal treatment, restrictive/discriminatory requirements, flawed technical evaluation or selection in relation to technical requirements and professional/technical capacity levels, conflicts of interest and allegations in relation to the extension of submission deadlines. In one case, the complainant made allegations related to the Bank’s Covenant of Integrity.
Of the five complaints reviewed by the Procurement Complaints Committee, three complainants were based in the countries where the projects were located. The winning bidders of these five procurement procedures were all based in the countries of the projects concerned.
The response time for procurement complaints lodged after the Bank’s non-objection to contract award and prior to the signature of contracts was in general in line with the Bank’s policy (Annex 8 to the Guide to Procurement for projects financed by the EIB). Complainants received the Committee’s reply and decision within less than the 60 days period envisaged by the Guide to Procurement, except in one case where the reply was submitted after 79 days due to the complexity of the case.
The PCC’s Secretariat always informs complainants that if they are not satisfied with the Bank’s response, they are entitled to escalate their complaint to the European Ombudsman for alleged maladministration by the Bank. One 2020 complaint was escalated to the Ombudsman during the first half of 2021. The Ombudsman held that there were not sufficient grounds to open a full inquiry and found that the EIB had provided the complainant with a reasoned and appropriate reply.
Procurement complaints were submitted mainly through the dedicated mailbox (firstname.lastname@example.org), with fewer complaints received through different channels when compared to previous years. This could indicate that the Procurement Complaints Committee has become more widely known as the main entry point for prospective procurement complainants and that the website has helped increase the visibility of the PCC.
The new website also includes the Committee’s privacy statement, which provides information on the handling of personal data in the context of the activity of the Committee since 2020. This statement was developed in close cooperation with the Bank’s Data Protection Officer.
As in previous years, the PCC’s Secretariat has received a number of emails that are not necessarily related to project procurement at the EIB but might present issues falling within the mandates of the Inspectorate General Investigations Division (IG/IN) or the Complaints Mechanism (IG/CM). The Secretariat’s position within the Inspectorate General facilitates communication and cooperation as well as the transfer of complaints to IG/IN concerning allegations of prohibited conduct and to IG/CM for non-procurement related complaints.
The Secretariat also monitors whether the EIB services concerned take the necessary follow-up action in the case of procurement complaints lodged prior to the Bank’s decision.
For 2022, the PCC’s Secretariat has planned to revisit specific aspects of its procedures and certain standard internal process documents with a view to improving the Procurement Complaints Committee’s way of working. While almost all complainants have received timely replies from the Committee (one delayed response only per year since 2019), lessons learned during its three years of operation could help enhance the overall process in terms of time management, while maintaining a high review standard.
The Secretariat will continue working with the Bank’s Data Protection Officer to ensure that the Committee’s and the Secretariat’s work remain compliant with the applicable data protection rules, taking into account any developments in the legal framework.