Municipalities and Crown corporations like Hydro Québec should be subject to the provincial law on public tendering, the first witness at the Charbonneau commission said Friday.
Jacques Lafrance, who was a high-ranking bureaucrat overseeing public procurement at Quebec's Treasury Board until he retired in 2008, was the first person to testify as a public inquiry gets underway into allegations of corruption in Quebec's construction industry and in political-party financing.
Lafrance spent most of Friday morning recounting the history of public tendering in Quebec, saying the province has vastly improved since the 1960s and 1970s, when cabinet would recommend firms to receive contracts — and it would always be the same two or three names.
But in the afternoon, when asked for his view on how the process of awarding public contracts could be improved, Lafrance, an engineer by training, said there's still much that could be done.
Aside from including Crown corporations and municipalities under the strictures of the Contracting by Public Bodies Act, Lafrance said public bodies already subject to the law shouldn't just award contracts to the lowest conforming bidder.
According to him, the scores that bid-selection committees give to each bid to determine whether they conform to a tender's terms are subjective, and don't always result in picking the best bidder.
So the government should implement well-defined rules to try to factor in more of the quality of contract bids in evaluating them, he said.
He also said the officials in charge of public contracts tend to be too focused on awarding them, and don't give enough attention to setting the terms of contracts before they're awarded and then managing them after they are.
School and health boards are currently subject to Quebec's public procurement law, but not municipalities or Hydro Québec.
The public inquiry is chaired by Judge France Charbonneau of Quebec Superior Court.