Mzembi embroiled in UNWTO tender row

CHAOS has marred the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) hosting preparations, with event management firms crying foul over the tendering of a million-dollar conference organiser contract.

Zimbabwe is set to co-host UNWTO’s 20th general assembly with Zambia in August this year in Victoria Falls.

The firms allege Walter Mzembi’s Tourism ministry has engaged African Bureau of Conventions (ABC) — a South African event organiser — as the official UNWTO assembly professional conference organiser (PCO) while the contract or job is still under tender.

They also accuse the ministry of manipulating and interfering with the tendering process.

“While the Tourism ministry is asking us to re-tender several times, we hear that ABC’s representative is already on the ground in Victoria Falls working with the ministry’s officials,” said a local events manager who preferred anonymity.

“The lady (ABC’s representative) has actually confirmed that they have spent nearly R60 000 on travel and preparing to do the job,” he said.

However, Mzembi dismissed the claims.

“I have no time for that. We are at an advanced stage and we are moving. You are focusing on the negative,” he said.

“PCO and conferencing solution provider are Cabinet cleared matters. So I advise that you don’t waste your energy on useless leads,” Mzembi said, adding that “there are no local skills to answer UNWTO specifications.”

But the events manager argues that locals are capable and with some even cheaper than ABC.

They said the engagement of a South African firm at a time government is spearheading an indigenisation programme was surprising.

According to him, the Tourism ministry intended to grant ABC the PCO contract before it was instructed to go through the tender by the State Procurement Board (SPB).

He said the ministry then floated a tender, number MOTHI/T-001/2, in November 2012, with eight event organisers participating, including ABC which bid for $771 106 excluding value added tax.

He said before the tender — whose closing date was November 27, 2012 — results were announced SPB cancelled it.

“The State Procurement Board has, through PBR 2154 of December 4, 2012, resolved that tender number MOTHI/-001/12 for engagement of a professional conference organiser for the UNWTO conference, be and hereby cancelled due to technical irregularities,” Charles Kuwaza’s SPB said, adding that “the accounting
officer should float an open tender with a short closing period of 14 days.

SPB then floated another tender — number MOTHI/T-001/12 — but with new conditions.

The tender required all interested parties to attend a compulsory pre-bidding meeting on January 4.
“…non-attendance will lead to automatic disqualification.

A certificate of attendance to this meeting will be issued on this day and has to be attached to final documents submitted to State Procurement Board,” the tender document stated.

According to the local events manager, all tenderers attended the January 4 meeting except ABC.

He said a Tourism ministry director named Mavhumbe addressed the meeting and said he had been “requested to notify you that the meeting has to be postponed to January 9 because Margaret Sangarwe (the ministry’s permanent secretary) could not attend as she is on holiday.”

He said the bidders were annoyed by the ministry’s heal dragging and demanded that any tenderer who was not present be disqualified to attend the January 9 meeting as dictated by the tender.

“We all agreed to that including Mavhumbe. The assumption was that no one, including the ministry, was in touch with any tenderer.”

“Surprisingly, ABC was present at the January 9 meeting,” he said.

The organiser said bidders protested against ABC.

However, the tender was then awarded to the Zimbabwe International Trade Fair (ZIFT) in March.

“… the State Procurement Board has, in terms of Section 21 of the Procurement Regulations 2002, awarded the tender… to Zimbabwe International Trade Fair (Pvt) Ltd, in the sum of $367 862,” SPB said in a March 8 letter to one of the bidders.

While it is unclear what transpired, in a new twist, ZITF’s tender was withdrawn and new one — number SFT/MOTHI-001/12 — with a 48-hour closing period, was floated.

ZITF’s comment could not be obtained by the time of going to print.

“The professional conference organiser is expected to assume the role shortly after conclusion of the tender,” the Tourism ministry said in a letter dated June 20, 2013.

The tender results are yet to be announced.