Since 2016, the General Directorate for National Roads and Motorways (GDDKiA) acting on behalf of the investor, i.e. municipal authorities of the City of Świnoujście, has been carrying out a contract award procedure regarding the construction of a tunnel under the Świna River. Four tenders with prices ranging from PLN 619 to 825 million have been submitted in the procedure. The tenders submitted were not only to specify the total remuneration (subject to evaluation under the price criterion), but also to include its breakdown into separate items for each group of works (overheads, preparation of documentation, construction works).

The selection of the most advantageous tender was contested by the PORR/Gülermak consortium which, in the appeal lodged, sought the rejection of the three other tenders on the grounds of their purported non-compliance with the Terms of References (ToR) resulting from incorrect completion of the list of payments. The appellant argued that as a result of the incorrect completion of the lists, the competitors’ tenders should have been rejected as non-compliant with the ToR. The National Appeal Chamber accepted these arguments and allowed the appeal.

The decision of the Chamber was subsequently challenged by the TOTO/ICM consortium, which submitted that there had been no grounds to complete the list of payments in the manner specified by the Chamber. Furthermore, even if the requirements regarding the completion of the list could have been construed otherwise, the contracting authority’s irregularity consisting in the preparation of the tender documentation in an ambiguous manner should in no way affect the contractors who complied with one of the permitted interpretations.

While accepting the arguments put forward by TOTO, the Regional Court allowed the complaint and dismissed the appeal of the PORR/Gülermak consortium. The panel of judges hearing the case disagreed with the Chamber’s position that the requirements of the contracting authority were purportedly unambiguous and that the method adopted by the PORR consortium was the only correct method of completing the list. Conversely, in the Court’s view, the requirements of the contracting authority were not defined in a sufficiently unambiguous manner, thus paving the way for the contractors to adopt two different methods of preparing the document. This, however, should not produce negative consequences for the contractors. In the Court’s view, the contracting authority should have, nevertheless, interpreted the list of payments prepared by it in line with the rules applicable to the interpretation of declarations of intent, taking into account a number of circumstances, including the previous method of preparing such documents by the contracting authority. Consequently, none of the tenders should have been rejected despite discrepancies identified in the manner of completing the list of payments.

The decision is of significant importance for the investor, i.e. municipal authorities of the City of Świnoujście, as it allows the same to continue the procedure taking into account tenders with the most advantageous prices. Findings made by the Regional Court in Szczecin also go considerably beyond the scope of the procedure which is now being carried out. The Court not only stressed the need to apply the principle that any doubts should be interpreted in favour of the contractors, but also questioned a too formalistic approach to tenders and their rejection as a result of irregularities resulting from unclear provisions of the ToR where such irregularities have no actual impact on the outcome of the procedure. The public procurement practice consistently demonstrates that such approach is too rarely taken by contracting authorities, and now and again also by the National Appeal Chamber.

On the other hand, the decision of the Chamber allowing the appeal on the grounds of unjustified rejection of the TOTO/ICM tender has been upheld. As a consequence, the consortium of Italian contractors originally rejected by GDDKiA due to the purported non-compliance of the tender with the ToR now has the best prospects of being awarded a public contract for the implementation of one of the most challenging construction projects of recent years.

In the proceedings before the National Appeal Chamber and the Regional Court, the TOTO/ICM consortium was represented by WBK’s Public Procurement Law team, i.e. Jan Roliński, advocate (senior partner, head of the practice), Wioleta Polak, legal counsel (counsel), and Piotr Wojdak, legal counsel trainee (associate).