The Civil Aviation Department (CAD) has come under fresh scrutiny following revelations that it didn’t float an open tender before appointing a British consultancy that was tasked with confirming the operational readiness of the airport’s new air traffic management system (ATMS).
Factwire news agency reports, citing internal government documents, that CAD appointed UK-based National Air Traffic Services (NATS) as a consultant for the ATMS through a single tender process.
The appointment was made in late 2015, picking the British firm that already had close ties with the CAD, the report said, raising suspicions of favoritism on the part of CAD and throwing up doubts about the impartiality of the NATS in clearing the new ATMS that went live in November 2016.
After the new ATMS suffered several glitches in the last few months, the CAD had on nine occasions quoted opinions from NATS in defense of the ATMS, assuring that the system was fine.
According to Factwire, NATS was selected as the “overseas independent consultant” via a single tender due to the close relations between the two parties that date back to 2009.
The report argued that the manner in which the appointment was made would lead one to doubt the impartiality of any opinions expressed by the NATS.
The contract was procured at HK$1.4 million to fulfill the legal limit of HK$1.43 million under the Stores and Procurement Regulations for single tenders without having to go through a public open tendering.
The CAD could have tailor-made the contract amount to be under the HK$1.43 million threshold for NATS to be awarded the project without having to go through an open tender, which would be a more complex exercise, Apple Daily noted.
A CAD spokesperson said late Tuesday that NATS was chosen by the Transport and Housing Bureau (THB) in response to a suggestion from the Public Accounts Committee.
The department sought to distance itself from the matter, saying that it was not involved in the tendering process.
The THB responded that as NATS was not involved in the development process of the ATMS, its feedback could be deemed independent and without any conflict of interest.
Factwire revealed that the CAD has had dealings with NATS since 2009 and that the two parties discussed plans to form a “strategic partnership”. The close ties could have favored the hiring of NATS as it would offer CAD “more flexibility in commercial interests”, the report said.
The objective of hiring an independent consulting firm was for it to provide unbiased feedback on the performance of the new air traffic control system. Now, the Factwire report could shake public confidence on the trustworthiness of NATS, Apple Daily noted.
Legislator Kwok Ka-ki says that now their ties have been revealed, it could make it hard for people to believe that the feedback the CAD received from NATS was trustworthy and impartial.
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