07.01.09

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Government of Portugal Ignores Procurement Rules and Gives Taxpayers’ Money to Microsoft

Posted in Europe, Finance, Microsoft at 10:14 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Lisbon tramway

Summary: Another classic case of illegitimate use of money without public tender

THE GOVERNMENT of Switzerland was recently sued for doing this type of thing, which is a violation of the law. See for example:

  1. Microsoft Sued Over Its Corruption in Switzerland, Microsoft Debt Revisited
  2. Can the United Kingdom and Hungary Still be Sued for Excluding Free Software?
  3. 3 New Counts of Antitrust Violation by Microsoft?
  4. Is Microsoft Breaking the Law in Switzerland Too?
  5. Microsoft Uses Lobbyists to Attack Holland’s Migration to Free Software and Sort of Bribes South African Teachers Who Use Windows
  6. ZDNet/eWeek Ruins Peter Judge’s Good Article by Attacking Red Hat When Microsoft Does the Crime
  7. Week of Microsoft Government Affairs: a Look Back, a Look Ahead
  8. Lawsuit Against Microsoft/Switzerland Succeeds So Far, More Countries/Companies Should Follow Suit
  9. Latest Reports on Microsoft Bulk Deals Being Blocked in Switzerland, New Zealand
  10. Swiss Government and Federal Computer Weekly: Why the Hostility Towards Free Software?
  11. Switzerland and the UK Under Fire for Perpetual Microsoft Engagements

The Portuguese government appears to be engaging in similar practices. The European Commission-backed Open Source Observatory has some new coverage on that, which is summarises as follows:

Portugal’s National Association for the promotion of Free Software (Ansol) accuses the government Office of Construction and Property (INCI) of having broken procurement rules after it admitted on Monday that it had signed a 268,000 euro contract with Microsoft for the government’s website on Public Expenses, Base, without a public tender.

The full story told by ANSOL is a little long-winded, but here is this longer version:

You may find it quite newsworthy as it is scandalous: people admit what are probably crimes with their best angel faces put on.

Last year the government mandated that public expenses should be online for everybody to see, starting at the end of July 2008, the responsible entity is called INCI (some overview of the law and process can be found here and here).

This led the site called Base, which only listed, sequentially, the expenses (c.f. official Government site).

It quickly led to some people finding absurd software related expenses (the public expenses with software soap opera), but as it was revealing to be quite useful, it was also revealing a fatal flaw of the site: search was, in fact, worse than failure.

The list was composed of 60 items each pages, which you could only navigate in the following way: go to the first page, press next until the end OR go to the last page and press previous until the beginning. It was completely impractical do find anything as more and more public entities registered their expenses, you either had a way to search or the purpose of the site was now to hide expenses while pretending to show them.

The site had a search box, but it didn’t search through the expenses, only through “articles” in that website. Searching for “office” would actually result in adverts to Microsoft Office Server (MS SharePoint). Scandalous!

Many had complained to the official institution and I read at least one blogger who claimed to not even receive an official answer to his inquiries on the matter (I have an extensive list of blog entries and news articles I found about the subject at the time, but right now I can’t find which of then had this article). The government officials from INCI denied to ever receiving any contact prior to January 2009. [news paper article in the main daily newspaper Publico]

ANSOL, a Portuguese association for the promotion of Free Software, saw the need to have search because it would be an useful tool to search for software related expenses which would be helpful to denounce the (mostly) illegal expenses with software in the public administration, so after some development attempts of friends and associates we finally found out how to extract the data from the official site, by web-spidering the unmanageable list.

And with a few man-hours of work and the money necessary to register a domain for two years (both mine, in the name of ANSOL), we created the web-site Transparência na AP (Transparency in the Public Administration) and announced it on January 13th, 2009.

It works “just like google” and it provides many features the official site doesn’t until today.

It generated quite a scandal, Publico put it on the first page, referencing a full page 4 article on the matter, and a positive mention about my person in the last page as an example of citizenship.

People were finding hundreds of dubious expenses. I don’t know if any of them got to courts, but INCI claimed it was just a couple of errors made by the people who submitted the values.

The truth was that there were way too many “mistakes”, and some public entities felt quite insulted because they claimed to have submitted them correctly, and were demanding for correction of the registered values for many months (one of them was the City Hall of Sines).

Anyway, our website was such a success that the day the article showed up at Publico (16th of January), the website broke down due to the sheer number of hits, in a few hours about 200 thousand visits (not page hits, visits!). We had to, in emergency and with the evident technical problems of changing DNS entries, move to a more powerful server.

In the newspaper article (by the way, full copy is available here), INCI claimed it would have search in the next 10 business days. It took over a month!

Later on we had a meeting with INCI where we explained that the site still had many problems, for instance navigating until page 115 and then clicking next would provide a fatal error and navigation was disabled until you start from the beginning again (they quickly corrected it, but it broke our spidering in the meanwhile).

Right now, their website is broken. We fetch LESS expenses than those currently in our database, and we lack the manpower to investigate what’s wrong in over 1000 pages of listing.

And now we reached almost the status quo. I’ll list more facts, some are quite public, some came from our meeting, and some from the recent news:

  • the authors of the website are Microsoft and Brandia Central
  • in the meeting, INCI confirmed Microsoft is the site author and Brandia only designed how it should look
  • in the meeting, INCI claimed it had to use Microsoft (and would continue) due to contractual obligations
  • in recent news, it was revealed that:
    • Microsoft begun work on the site BEFORE it was ordered
    • it was granted to Microsoft without procurement even though the value would demand it
    • it cost about 269 thousand euros
    • adding search cost over 20 thousand euros more
  • in the follow up to the previous news it was revealed that INCI claims:
    • it respected the law
    • claims there was no procurement for lack of time
    • Microsoft was chosen due to Microsoft’s know-how, experience and credibility, also because it was the owner of the software that was going to be used, which is widely tested
    • there was no extra payment for the search (in the meeting I had with INCI they confirmed they were charged for it, but no values were revealed).

Some words on the technology behind the official site:

  • what is it? it’s Microsoft Sharepoint!
    • not scalable
    • not suitable
    • not interoperable
    • widely known for another Microsoft technological failure
  • competition? No competition, no procurement, INCI admits in the same articles total vendor dependence and lock-in on Microsoft
  • no governance! Microsoft owns, Microsoft made, Microsoft is the only option to INCI

For a little bit of background, the links below may also be of use.

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4 Comments

  1. orbit said,

    July 1, 2009 at 10:47 am

    Gravatar

    The European Commission DG Internal Market has a dedicated team who is looking at the validity of public tenders, in regard of the directive on public tendering.

    It is pretty easy to submit them a case via email.

    Maybe you want to write to them to know at which email address people can write complains?

  2. DiamondWakizashi said,

    July 1, 2009 at 12:16 pm

    Gravatar

    The Portuguese government must not want secure and properly functioning computers.

  3. Needs Sunlight said,

    July 1, 2009 at 3:31 pm

    Gravatar

    Graft. Organized crime. All rolled up as a cult.

    Gotta love it.

  4. max stirner said,

    July 2, 2009 at 3:01 am

    Gravatar

    gostando do seu trabalho ANSOL, parabéns ;)

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