The Australian Government has been called on to publicly explain its decision to award a multi-million-dollar contract to a company that has previously donated tens of thousands of dollars to the Liberal Party.
Telecommunications company Vocus was last year awarded a $2.8 million contract to carry out a three-month scoping study on the planned undersea high-speed internet cable for Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands, ABC News reports.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) awarded the scoping study contract through a limited tender, a process where only one or more potential suppliers are approached to apply.
Australia made an offer to help with the Pacific cable project last year after the Solomon Islands signed a deal with Chinese communications giant Huawei.
That deal unnerved security experts concerned about China’s growing influence in the region, and the prospect of a Chinese company gaining access to Australia’s internet infrastructure.
Marc Purcell, the chief executive of the Australian Council for International Development, told the ABC’s Pacific Beat program the combination of the donations and the limited tender were “not a good look”.
“The Government does have the ability under the Commonwealth Procurement Guidelines to have a limited tender,” he said.
“While it has that power, the issue is the lack of transparency and what I think will raise eyebrows in Canberra is the fact that the preferred provider Vocus is a donor to the Coalition.”
He said the nature of the limited tender meant there was only a small amount of information publicly available, and he has called on the Government to clarify the business case for the contract.
“It’s not a good look. And I think because there is a high degree of public concern about accountability of the aid program, we’re calling on the Government to make it more transparent,” he said.
A deal on how the project will be funded is expected to be announced in coming weeks, however the Government has already confirmed it will fund the majority of the project, and will do so out of its overseas aid program.