What may have seemed like a simple award to a private company to operate a contract on behalf of the town hall, the running of the beach bars on the Orihuela Costa, now looks set to be the biggest thorn in the side of the municipal management group as allegations of contract rigging and preferential treatment are counteracted by claims that previous administrations failed to ensure adequate fulfilment of the contractual terms.
Early in 2013, the contract for running the beach bars was extended for another year, as per the terms already in place, with the tender process having been halted by the Mayor, Monseratte Guillén, due to a number of questions relating to the award of the work. At the time, we reported how the contract, which brings in around 700,000 euro per year in revenue to the town hall, was only set to earn just over 300,000 under the contract being presented. Guillén also stated that the new contract would not have afforded fair competition in the tender process, as companies would have to provide proof of a solvent income from this kind of service for the last ten years. As a result, the company who have already been providing the service, Chiringuitos Del Sol, were asked to continue. In order to ensure the standards required by the beaches of Orihuela, the company invested some 50,000 euro in new equipment, despite the contract extension only being for one year.
The contract was put to public tender for awarding to a new bidder before the Easter period of this year. However, that process was also delayed, with the tender process becoming almost paralysed, due to complaints raised about the contract requiring the bidders to be accredited with quality standards. The arguments surround allegations that whilst attempting to fulfil the criteria of the standards required for the beaches to remain of the highest quality possible, this restricts the number of companies who can bid, and is potentially tantamount to creating unfair competition.
As Easter came and went, there were no beach bars on the Orihuela Costa, although between the departments of contracts and beaches in the town hall, they were confident that the issues would be resolved shortly after the first busy holiday period, in preparation for the summer.
This week, the town hall has issued a number of documents explaining their current position, and some of the problems with the awards process. The documents related to the company that provided the service between 2006 and 2013, prior to the end of that period of operation.
The first document was a claim for payment from the operating company of a debt issued by the town hall in October of 2013, with a total amount of 934,442.74 euro, after the town hall discovered that the debt had never been claimed by the former councillor for the coast, Pedro Mancebo. The claim is that the company who have bid actually have a considerable debt with the town hall, a debt which was never claimed by the previous councillor, but a debt which would have rendered the tender process potentially void.
The second document is a claim issued in April of this year, with a total amount of 866,514.74 euro, after it was agreed that the company would be awarded the contract for the next four years.
A third document is in response to the company who have asked for the debt to be waivered, on account of nobody having requested the money during the term of the contract, and it may well be considered unfair to levy such a large bill in one go on the company who have carried out substantial investment in the facilities during the operation.
The conclusion made by the town hall is that from 2006 to October 2013, nobody ordered or asked for the outstanding payment, and it was only during the renewal of the tender process that the debts were discovered. It now remains for the government team to try to recover the debt owed to the municipality of Orihuela.
Meanwhile, Pedro Mancebo is calling for the resignation of the councillor for contracts, Victor Ruíz, the councillor for beaches, Martina Scheurer, and the Mayor, Monseratte Guillén, over the situation that he has described as a “scandal” that the government should be “pampering” to the company, despite the 1.1million euro debt owed to the town hall.
Mancebo claims that both the mayor and the coastal councillor were aware of the debt prior to the year extension put n place at the end of the contract in 2013, but still extended the role and this ought to have eliminated the company from bidding for further work.
Mancebo has also stated that the new specifications for bidding on this service “seem to have been made to order” for the company, as they are the only one able to satisfy the requirements of being in possession of the relevant quality standards, although the town hall defend this element by showing how the tender documentation clearly states “or similar”, and is therefore not as restrictive as is claimed by those highlighting that as an issue.
Finally, this week, as the only qualified operator able to meet the required standards of the contract, Chiringuitos del Sol SA have been awarded the work for a period of four years, extendable subject to an agreement to pay off the outstanding debt. A situation which may well prove damaging to the political reputation of those who have been involved over the years, but now hopefully protecting against the potential lasting damage to the quality standard accreditations of the beaches, such as the highly acclaimed “Blue Flag” awards. Whereas surrounding small businesses may have enjoyed the extra trade generated by the lack of beach bars, they will once again return as a stable of the beaches on the coast, with a company that has previously been involved in organising many different events on the during the summer season in Orihuela returning once more.