Salvador Illa, Minister of Health at the time, at a press conference during the pandemic. / E.P.

Spain detects “irregularities” in 22% of emergency health contracts awarded during the Covid pandemic

The Accounts Tribunal analysed 73 cases totalling more than 551 million euros and found irregularities in 11 of them

MELCHOR SÁIZ-PARDO Madrid

Spain's Accounts Tribunal has detected “irregularities” in over a fifth of the emergency contracts which were awarded by the Ministry of Health in 2020, during the Covid-19 health crisis. In the third of eight reports the auditing body plans to issue about emergency contracting during the pandemic, it analysed 73 cases totalling more than 551 million euros and found irregularities in 11 of them.

In some cases the contracts were terminated early because the company in question had breached the conditions, and a process is still under way now to recover payments made in advance, accrued interest and, where applicable, compensation for damage and losses incurred.

In two of the cases there were unforeseen modifications to the contracts, such as substituting one type of mask for another which cost the same, or supplying Covid tests which were equally as effective but more expensive, and in another five cases deliveries of supplies were delayed.

"Inadequate verification"

Despite this, the Accounts Tribunal says the government’s failure to meet the requirements was justified because the items were being acquired in a situation of exceptional emergency and in a context of global shortages. However, it does say that the authorities may not have verified the production and supply capacity in enough detail, nor had it properly checked the solvency of some of the companies which were awarded contracts at the start of the pandemic.

Much of the money spent was for protective equipment, such as 246 million euros for FFP2, FFP3 and surgical masks, gloves and hand sanitiser. In fact, 91.69% of the amount spent was for masks. The report shows that high prices were paid for those: the FFP2 masks were purchased for 4.17 euros each and FFP3s for 4.68 euros.

On the positive side, the Tribunal stresses that the government had been aiming to adopt emergency measures to tackle the health crisis caused by Covid, and that there was sufficient documentation to show that there had been a need for swift action without putting contracts to tender.