There should be a public opening of the tenders on the published date. The names of all bidders and their respective subsidy offers should be announced at the tender opening ceremony. Attendance can be open for all interested parties or bidders only.
Sometimes, a quick preliminary bid compliance check is conducted during the public bid opening, in order to verify that the contents of the bid envelope are complete, have been signed by the proper authority (e.g., power of attorney included), the bid bond is valid, etc. If this is not feasible during the ceremony, it is usually conducted shortly thereafter as a preliminary examination process, prior to the detailed examination i.e., evaluation.
The tender can use a single envelope format or separate envelope format for each of the components i.e., the technical proposal and the financial proposal. Best practice is to split the evaluation into two stages, as follows:
- Pre-qualification of the technical proposal, which includes information on how the bidder meets the corporate, financial and operational requirements as well as how the bidder meets the service and quality requirements, among others; and
- The financial proposal which is the required subsidy amount.
Only those bidders who meet the stipulated technical pre-qualification thresholds will have their subsidy request considered by the regulator.
Tender evaluation criteria should be described clearly in the tender documents to be purchased by interested prospective bidders. Furthermore, the documents should be based, to the greatest extent possible, on objective factors to avoid favouritism or subjectivity in the evaluation process. Also, the tender documents should contain a clear schedule including the duration of the evaluation period and the date on which results are announced. Depending on the complexity of the bid and required internal approval processes (e.g., by the board of the regulator), the evaluation period typically varies between four to six weeks.
Technical proposal evaluation
The evaluation team should be drawn from within the regulator and ideally should include various subject experts e.g., an engineer, a lawyer, a financial expert or accountant, an economist, somebody with a business background and possibly a procurement specialist. Sometimes consultants or other outside experts (e.g. an academic) are part of the evaluation team to add international expertise and provide an added independent view.
The team should be led by a senior figure of the Universal Access and Service Fund (UASF) or regulator. Ideally, each member of the evaluation team will review each technical proposal separately and independently and come up with an assessment as to the suitability of the bidder. These evaluations are then compared and discussed in a group meeting, any uncertainties or questions in regards to the compliance of a bidder removed, and a conclusion reached whether the technical proposal is compliant or not.
The evaluation can be carried out with a simple compliance checklist covering a number of criteria and coded or coloured as follows:
- Compliant (green colour);
- Clarification required (yellow colour); and
- Non-compliant (red colour)
Evaluation criteria are the same criteria that are spelled out in the bidding documents, which need to be met to satisfy the technical requirements. The compliance checklist of the bidding documents should cover all the necessary criteria, and can be used by the bidders to check if they have covered the criteria as well as the evaluation team. The regulator typically reserves the right to reject bids that do not conform to all minimum requirements.
To summarise the process, bidders’ proposals should be announced as acceptable or unacceptable based on the criteria set out in the bidding documents. These criteria include but are not limited to the following:
- Does the bidder meet the minimum corporate qualifications such as a minimum net-worth, financing capacity, proper incorporation and operational experience;
- Has the minimal service level target been offered;
- Has the required quality of service level been guaranteed;
- Are the proposed tariffs within the allowed limit set by the regulator;
- Is the technical solution allowable in accordance with current law and regulation; and
- Is the technical solution field-proven, deployed in at least two reference projects (in the country or worldwide), and providing the service required in the bidding documents?
Within a stipulated period after tender closing (e.g., maximum of one month) the universal access and service (UAS) department director and his evaluation team should determine which bidders have met the minimum service obligation requirements and the minimum corporate, financial, technical, operational and quality standards.
The second stage relates to the least amount of subsidy required by the bidders. All qualifying bidders who have met the publicised qualification criteria will be evaluated in the second stage only with regard to the amount of funding they require. The lowest bid for a subsidy wins.
Bidders who do not meet the minimum standard in all the required criteria in their technical proposal will not have their financial offers considered.
Once the evaluation team has determined the winning bid, a letter of intent is sent to the winning bidder, notifying them of the award and requesting acknowledgement and willingness to enter into contract negotiation.
After the winning bidder acknowledges the award, the evaluation results can be made public to all participating bidders. Bidders that did not qualify have the opportunity to obtain information on why they did not qualify and may lodge a complaint if they are not satisfied with the reasons given to them.
With a pre-published draft contract and firm universal access and service (UAS) requirements, room for actual contract negotiations is rather limited. The competitive tender would be unfair if the winning bidder can change UAS requirements. Also, as the draft contract is an appendix to the bidding documents, bidders have had the opportunity to comment or question any particular provisions of the draft contract beforehand. The only changes in the contract might refer to minor issues such as a modified implementation and payment schedule (as long as the overall completion date does not change) and modifications in monitoring, reporting or technical auditor processes and communication protocols.
Once the contract is signed, the bid bond is returned to the winning bidder as well as to all other bidders. Typically, at the time of contract signing or shortly thereafter (but before the bid bonds are returned to the bidders), the winning bidder has to furnish the performance bond, as per the bidding documents.