I have been on the periphery of a few land deals in my time in the civil service so maybe I can make some general points.
Typically big land deals in the service are decided on by the minister and/or upper management but delivery is the responsibility of an assistant principal (AP) reporting to a principal officer (PO). The vast majority of APs that I have encountered are very competent at their regular job ie pushing paper. What is problematic is that their experiences tend to be very narrow and necessarily bureaucratic. Generally, an AP would not have any experience of business, commercial dealings or negotiation. It would not be so bad if departments provided support or had rules as guidance but beyond “get 3 quotes” the whole purchase is left to the individual officer.
The cases that I know of directly, the APs worked hard and spent a lot of time on the deals. They honestly were trying their best but delays crept in with the solicitors and negotiations with builders over office fit-outs and maintenance contracts. I have no doubt that a commercial entity would have done the deals quicker and cheaper but not by a huge amount. The deals went through fine and everyone was happy. You will never read about the good cases in the Indo.
It is also worth remembering that what made sense once is folly now. Take Thornton Hall. The idea was to take a green field and build a new modern prison instead of the expense of modernising Mountjoy. Once Thornton Hall was completed, it would take in Mountjoy’s prison population allowing the Mountjoy site in the centre of the city to be sold for development. The whole deal was expected to make money, increase prison places, reduce prison costs and improve prisoner conditions. Then 2007 happened.
A final point, I know Bearishbull’s comment about kickbacks was made in 2011 but I think that is worth addressing. Civil servants are many things but as a rule dishonest would not one of them. I know of only one case of a civil servant taking a bribe and it was not in a land deal.
I do not want to have this comment erased for legal reasons so this next comment will be vague. If there is bribery it would be at the level of the political appointees to state boards. In the main, state boards contract out for services rather than make land purchases.