In accordance with Treasurer's Instructions 1117 and 1219, agencies must have established a formal complaints process for dealing with complaints raised in relation to specific procurement issues.
As part of this complaints process, an agency is required to:
- deal with complaints in a timely and impartial manner;
- nominate a Procurement Complaints Officer and provide details to Treasury for placement on Winning Government Business (including advice of replacement complaints officers as they are appointed);
- document its complaints process in an internal policy and procedures manual and ensure that this is well publicised, both internally to agency staff and externally to suppliers and the community;
- ensure that all quotation and tender documentation refers to the procurement complaints process;
- on request, provide information on the complaints process to suppliers; and
- establish a database to record information on all written complaints and their outcomes.
The primary reasons that agencies are required to establish a procurement complaints process are to increase the level of community satisfaction and to enhance the agency/supplier relationship. A procurement complaints process will also help to identify any general problems in government procurement. Recurring problems indicate that something is wrong. Identifying the cause of these problems, for example, ambiguous policies, unclear guidelines or skill gaps, and taking remedial action will ensure that government procurement processes are continually improving and the level of community satisfaction increases accordingly.
The appointed Procurement Complaints Officer should:
- have a good understanding of government procurement policies and processes;
- have good interpersonal and communication skills;
- be provided appropriate training where required;
- be adequately resourced. This includes the provision of a detailed complaints handling procedure manual and access to appropriate reference material (eg policy guidelines);
- have access to all levels of staff in an agency, as necessary, to investigate and resolve a complaint; and
- be provided with appropriate guidance on the need to ensure independence in relation to any complaint being investigated.
Ideally, the nominated officer will operate independently of an agency's purchasing area to reduce the risk of conflicts.
Information on the complaints handling process, including how, when, where and to whom to make a complaint, should be readily accessible by suppliers and the community.
Agencies should refer to the information provided on this website in tender and quotation documentation. Agencies should also be able to provide information in hard copy. A brochure (Got a complaint? - refer to Resource Centre panel) is available for this purpose .
Complaints are to be handled free-of-charge to the complainant.
Complainants should be made aware that if a contract has been entered into, it is unlikely that the decision can be overturned.
However, where a contract has not been finalised and the complaint is found to be valid, the agency should be prepared to re-call tenders or quotes or take other appropriate action. Tenders or quotes should only be re-called where there will be no undue cost or disadvantage to other companies.
Agencies are to keep records of all complaints and their outcomes. The information recorded will include:
- the date the complaint was made;
- complainant details (eg business name, contact details);
- a brief description of the complaint;
- action in progress (including dates action is taken);
- the outcome (including whether the complaint was resolved or whether it was referred to another body for further review); and
- the response time.
Agencies should use the complaints process to identify general or recurring problems which may indicate problems with procurement processes or procedures, or skill deficits of staff.
Agencies are required to report on complaints to Treasury within 30 days of the end of the financial year. Information on the reporting requirements is located below.
Procurement complaint handling procedures
The procurement complaints process is based on resolving complaints at an agency level. Further avenues for redress are available where the complainant is unhappy with the agency's response.
In the first instance, complainants should be encouraged to seek resolution through the area managing the purchasing process. If relevant, complainants should be encouraged to seek a debriefing, if they have not already done so.
If the area managing the purchasing process is unable to resolve the matter, the complaint should be investigated by the agency's nominated Complaints Officer. Note: If for any reasons the Complaints Officer is not considered to be independent, then agencies should consider using a probity adviser or the agency Procurement Review Committee. As the investigation process will need to be able to stand up to public scrutiny, the independence of the investigator is a matter of primary importance.
If a complainant is not satisfied with the response by an agency, they can write to the Secretary of Treasury for an independent review. The complainant will be requested to provide copies of all correspondence with the agency concerned, together with any other relevant material.
Treasury will take whatever action it considers necessary to resolve the complaint. In certain circumstances, if necessary, Treasury will employ a probity adviser to investigate the complaint. Where the complaint is proven to be valid, the cost of employing outside expertise will be at the expense of the agency against which the complaint is made.
If a complainant is still not satisfied with the response to the complaint, other avenues of redress include the Ombudsman and the Minister responsible for the tendering agency.
Agencies should refer any allegations of a criminal nature directly to Tasmania Police.
Guidance information on the handing of complaints is available from the Office of the Ombudsman (Guideline 1/2013 - Guideline in relation to Complaint Handling - refer to Resource Centre panel). Agencies should remember to record complaints in procurement complaints databases, as appropriate.
Prevention of complaints
An obvious key complaints management strategy is prevention. Agencies can help to prevent complaints by:
- ensuring that Tasmanian businesses are provided with the opportunity to tender/quote for government business;
- ensuring that buyers act ethically and impartially;
- ensuring that specifications are clear and are not biased towards any particular brand;
- ensuring that decisions to procure using direct or limited submission procurement methodologies are appropriately documented, justified and authorised;
- building effective relationships with suppliers and providing regular feedback on performance;
- employing a Probity Adviser if a contract is of high value or is likely to be contentious; and
- providing appropriate debriefing sessions to unsuccessful tenderers.
Reporting Guidelines for Procurement Complaints Officers
Agencies must provide a report of complaints made in each financial year to Treasury within 30 days of the end of the financial year. The report is to be based on the information recorded in the agency's complaints database.
Recording a complaint - Role of the Procurement Complaints Officer
The designated agency Procurement Complaints Officer is responsible for recording and reporting each complaint. Information on all complaints received about a procurement process, policy or service standard, whether verbal or written, should be provided to the Complaints Officer for this purpose.
When recording details of a complaint, the Complaints Officer must respect the confidentiality of the complainant. Information pertaining to the identity of the complainant should only be disclosed to parties that are directly affected by the complaint. The prime purpose of disclosing any information is to ensure swift and equitable resolution of the complaint. Note: Queries do not constitute a complaint and should be dealt with by an officer with expertise in the relevant area.
The Complaints Officer must also respect the confidentiality of any other persons who may be involved in the procurement.
It is important that the Complaints Officer is aware of the remedy that the complainant is seeking, before proposing a process for resolving the complaint. For example, some complainants may only be seeking to have their complaint noted for future reference. In this instance, resolution of the complaint may simply require recording the complaint on the Complaints Datasheet and advising the complainant that the complaint has been noted.
It is important that the Complaints Officer does not build unrealistic expectations on the part of the complainant that a decision will be overturned. While progressing the resolution of each complaint, the Complaints Officer is responsible for maintaining a data collection sheet (see below).
Recording a complaint - Data Collection Sheet
A Complaints Datasheet should be developed to assist the collection of data and improve consistency of information between agencies. Agencies should use the Complaints Datasheet to record details of all complaints and their outcomes.
The information to be recorded is described in the following table:
1. Complaint identification code
- Each complaint is to be given an identification code which identifies the relevant agency and the number of the complaint in chronological order, eg "Tsy001" identifies the first complaint received by Treasury, "DHHS002" identifies the second complaint received by the Department of Health and Human Services, etc.
2. Date received
- Record the date that the complaint was received by the agency.
3. Complainant details
- Include the business name, name of complainant, address and telephone number.
4. Relevant quotation / tender / contract details
- Detail the relevant procurement activity. Include the title of the quotation/tender/contract, the type of product or service being purchased, the reference number, the approximate value of the contract and the date the tender/request closed (or closes).
- Also detail the relevant section of the agency that is responsible for the quotation/tender/contract.
5. Written or verbal complaint?
- Detail how the complaint was received - either record "written" or "verbal" in the applicable box.
- Keep any documentation relevant to the complaint for future reference in a secure place (eg the letter of complaint and any responses). Always prepare a file note if the complaint is received verbally.
6. Brief description of the complaint
- Detail exactly what the complaint is about. This may include:
- eligibility to tender;
- not invited to quote;
- aspects of the assessment/evaluation process;
- unfair treatment (probity issues);
- failure to seek public tenders;
- aspects of the tender specification; or
- application of a particular policy.
7. Action in progress
- Detail what action has been taken, when and by whom.
- Provide details of what information has been provided to the complainant, eg information the Got a Complaint? brochure.
Include information on:
how the complaint was resolved, at what level and by whom;
the date that the complaint was resolved;
whether it was referred to an external body and, if so, the date that the outcome is expected to be received (if known); and/or
if the case is pending at 30 June.
- Examples of outcomes are:
- "Process OK - process was explained/clarified for the complainant".
- "Written response provided by Head of Agency that explained the policy for requesting quotations and stated that the agency would consider the supplier for similar quotations in future".
- "Referred to the Minister for resolution".
Submitting complaints data to Treasury
Agencies are to submit a copy of their Complaints Datasheet(s), detailing each complaint received during the year, to Treasury within 30 days of the end of the financial year, via e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
If no complaints were received during the year, submit the datasheet marked "NIL RETURN".
To protect the confidentiality of complainants, Treasury will delete all details relating to the identity of complainants prior to undertaking any reporting. Complaints will be identifiable by their "Complaint Identification Code" in the event that any follow-up needs to occur with the agency Complaints Officer.
The outcome of complaints that are pending at the time the datasheet is submitted are to be provided to Treasury upon resolution of the complaint.