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There is an ongoing situation in the UK regarding the propriety of the procurement of some goods and services during the response to COVID-19.

Conservative PPE contracts
Michael Gove and VIP lane
Good law project

Is this situation unique to the UK? The early response to COVID-19 required governments worldwide to react much more quickly to outside events. Are those actions being questioned regarding their legality and honesty elsewhere?

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  • I don't think anyone has questioned the legality of the procurement process in the UK. The law clearly allowed the government to suspend normal procurement rules in an emergency, and I don't think there was ever any doubt that the overriding objective was to obtain the needed supplies rather than to get the best possible price or to be fair to all potential bidders. Many like the "Good Law Project" are now examining the unfairness that resulted, but they have stopped short of alleging any illegality. Commented Nov 23, 2021 at 10:05
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    @MichaelKay No, there are still clear and explicit allegations of illegality. The allegation (made very explicitly) is that the suspension of normal procurement rules was, in many cases, the relevant Conservative MPs diverted funds explicitly to enrich themselves, their friends or family, or companies in which they personally had an interest. This remains illegal. The issue is that the threshold for proving illegality is higher when they merely have to claim that they thought the country was going to get something for that money.
    – Graham
    Commented Nov 23, 2021 at 14:01
  • @MichaelKay even short of criminal intent (fraud or similar, accusations of which I have seen but perhaps not from a notable source given the early stages of disclosure) there have been repeated questions over the government's lack of compliance with it's legal transparency obligations.
    – Jontia
    Commented Nov 23, 2021 at 14:30
  • @Graham The government was appealing for anyone with the capability to supply PPE to come forward, and it wasn't illegal for MPs to pass that appeal on to companies that they knew might be able to respond, even if they had an interest. Commented Nov 24, 2021 at 14:16
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    @MichaelKay MPs do not merely "influence" the placing of contracts, they can and do specify those contracts personally. The whole point of this scandal is that in normal circumstances there is additional oversight (normally cross-party) so that MPs cannot directly channel government funds to their family and friends; but in the pandemic this oversight was removed so that it was perfectly possible for a single MP to authorize multi-million-pound government contracts with personal friends who were clearly incapable of delivering, with no checks at all. And this in fact happened many times.
    – Graham
    Commented Nov 24, 2021 at 21:01

3 Answers 3

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I don't think it's unique to the UK. I can think of at least two instances of controversy surrounding Covid-related procurement deals in the Netherlands and Thailand. I'll highlight some of the controversies.

The Netherlands: shady deal surrounding the procurement of face masks

In the Netherlands there was a row over someone who created a nonprofit organisation to import and provide face masks. It later turned out that the same person was involved in a for profit company tied to the nonprofit which allowed them to make money off of the face mask deals even though they presented themselves as a nonprofit.

And because of health risks associated with the masks from their organization, the masks were never used. The deal involved around one hundred million euro. The information above is based on the following Dutch Wikipedia excerpt (linked via Google Translate).

The deal is the subject of an external inquiry. This deal took place early on in the pandemic. For example, this Dutch state broadcaster article in May of 2020 (translated) describes that person's effort of providing masks.

Thailand: defamation suits regarding criticism of vaccine procurement

According to Reuters, there are at least two lawsuits underway surrounding criticism of vaccine procurement and production:

The Government Pharmaceutical Organization (GPO) suit accuses Boon Vanasin of providing false information, claiming that the GPO, as coordinator for Moderna vaccines for private hospitals, sought to maximize profit from the public, the GPO said in a statement.

Another critic of the strategy, opposition politician Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, is facing charges of insulting the monarchy after accusing the government of over-reliance on a royal-owned firm to produce AstraZeneca vaccines. The crime is punishable by up to 15 years imprisonment.

Some more accusations, as reported by the Thaiger in September 2021:

Complex, tricky accounting, embezzlement or a government going about its work in the middle of a pandemic? Accusations by the Pheu Thai opposition party are demanding Thai PM Prayut Chan-o-cha explain a 2 billion baht [about $60 million] gap between what was allocated for Sinovac vaccine purchases and what was actually spent.

All of this seems to be in play in 2021. It should be noted that Thailand only started seeing increased case numbers in 2021 (see the timeline in a previous answer of mine), so before that the government might not have put that much effort into procuring medical supplies.

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    Germany as well. Commented Nov 21, 2021 at 5:14
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    There is a similar mask-procurement situation going on in Finland at the moment. The government ordered masks from a shady businessman who got low-quality goods from questionable sources (in the beginning of 2020), and right now they're litigating who was responsible for what.
    – vurp0
    Commented Nov 22, 2021 at 5:25
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    Norway as well, there are people facing charges for repacking masks without having the right certifications and for repacking non-surgical masks into surgical ones. 44MNOK charges being sought, so they likely made a fair profit from their idiocy.
    – Stian
    Commented Nov 22, 2021 at 12:13
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In Germany, a number of politicians from the conservative parties CDU and CSU closed shady mask deals, many enriching themselves or their party in the process (Maskenaffäre). Some of the masks had severe defects, and others were severely overpriced. Some lower-profile politicians resigned from their offices, but there were no legal consequences for their corruption.

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Austria also had its mask-related scandal (Hygiene Austria Maskenskandal), where a company with close personal ties to the office of the chancellor was accused of multiple shady actions, allegations ranging from intolerable working conditions to relabelling imported masks as domestically produced masks.

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