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Auditors to grill government over mass-testing contract

Auditors to grill government over mass-testing contract

2 min. 22.06.2021
Competing laboratories bidding for the contract said they were frozen out of the initiative
Laboratoires Réunis ran Luxembourg's nation-wide testing programme such as this drive-in test site in Marnach
Laboratoires Réunis ran Luxembourg's nation-wide testing programme such as this drive-in test site in Marnach
Photo credit: Gerry Huberty

(This story has been updated in paragraph 7, to add that the Luxembourg Institute of Health received the tests from the original buyer, the HCPN) 

By Annette Welsch and Kate Oglesby

Luxembourg’s Court of Auditors is set to grill the government over the way it awarded a major contract to run its nationwide coronavirus testing programme after rival medical laboratories say they were frozen out of the initiative.

Competing firms needed technology used only by Laboratoires Réunis, the company which ultimately won the contract, a requirement rivals say shut them out from gaining a job possibly worth more than €150 million.

Parliament's budget control commission on Monday drew up a set of 20 detailed questions after lawmakers had earlier asked questions about how the contract was awarded and announced they would deploy the auditors.

The Court of Auditors will ask which criteria the government used to select the winning bidder for the contract and which bodies were involved. They will also want to know where the money to pay for the testing came from – given that it had not been provided for in the public budget. 

Further questions concern auxiliary staff and security guards, and how the government monitored the quality of the services.

Unfair competition

Two rivals to Laboratoires Réunis, BioneXt and Ketterthill, told the Luxembourg Times they had been prevented from providing the large scale tests because they did not have the equipment needed for the tests.

Companies had to use 175,000 tests produced by Fast Track Diagnostics, a spin-off from medical testing lab Laboratoires Réunis, the group that ultimately won the work.  The tests worth an estimated €2.4 million had already been acquired by the Luxembourg Institute of Health (LIH), which received them from the original buyer, the country's Haut-Commissariat à la Protection Nationale, LIH spokesman Arnaud d'Agostini said. The duties of the HCPN, headed by Prime Minister Xavier Bettel, include managing civil crises. 

The condition prevented two local competitors from winning the lucrative government contract, BioneXt medical analysis laboratory founder Jean-Luc Dourson and Ketterthill Laboratories Managing Director Stéphane Gidenne said.

Laboratoires Réunis, which sold Fast Track Diagnostics in 2017, had already operated the first phase of the nationwide programme and is now running the third, which could end soon. The government did not seek public bidding for these two phases of the test-everyone programme.

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