Govt cracks down on procurement malpractice

HARARE - Government has moved swiftly to crack down on a recent wave of public sector procurement malpractice, by assigning the Cabinet Committee on Infrastructure and Utilities to monitor transactions and ensure transparency.

Now industry players are urging the committee to join forces with the police to investigate tender corruption and ensure taxpayers get value for money, amid growing evidence of a “cosy” relationship between the State Procurement Board and Chinese company ZTE Corporation over two electricity-related deals.

Jonathan Moyo, the Information minister, clarified yesterday that the committee on Infrastructure and Utilities was a standing committee of Cabinet chaired by Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa  set up last year along with other committees following the appointment of Cabinet.

A $180 million off-the-books deal to build solar power facilities and the apparent protection of ZTE company from losing another contract despite installing sub-standard electricity meters, both within a few months of each other, has raised anger among ousted bidders and government end-user agencies.

In the first case, losing firms are demanding the right to resubmit bids in the wake of irregularities exposed in multi-million dollar contracts with Zimbabwe Power Company (ZPC) to construct the  solar power facilities.

On the solar power deals, bidders have cried foul over the State Procurement Board’s handling of the contract, which allows the ZPC to negotiate with bidders that had originally bid massively more than the price of the winning contractor.

The government’s initial tender for a 100MW solar plant was opened on July 5, and closed on July 23, 2013, after which ZPC awarded a $183 million contract to build a 100MW solar power plant in Gwanda to China Jiangxi International Co-operation (QIC).

In January this year, the SPB turned down a request from ZPC to open talks with ZTE Corporation and Intratrek Zimbabwe on two further 100MW plants without an open tender, but reversed that decision a month later, despite procurement legislation requiring an open tender in such cases.

The original tender was for a single 100MW power station, but an additional two 100MW plants were added to the deal and apparently awarded to ZTE, even though the additional 200MW was not part of the published tender.

How can a losing bidder then go on to win an extended contract, commentators are asking.

The SPB had given ZPC the green light to negotiate with ZTE and Intratrek on the basis that they had technically compliant bids, despite submitting prices of $358 million and $248 million respectively for the original tender, significantly higher than that of China Jiangxi International Co-operation’s winning $183 million price.

“We demand that justice is practised and the State Procurement Board principles of ‘fair and square’ are followed,” said one concerned bidder.

“Bidders invest a lot in the tendering process and it would be unfair if such shoddy practice is left to go unquestioned at the detriment of fair competition for public sector contracts.

“There is no rationale for accepting bidders that have lost in a tender process without affording others the same chance to participate.”

Experts insist that the solar power debacle breaches procurement legislation that require bidders to provide “a comprehensive description of the goods to be supplied or, as the case may be, of the construction work to be effected”.

The legislation also spells out “the procuring entity shall accept whichever valid tender offers the lowest price, unless other criteria are specified in the solicitation documents, in which event those criteria shall be followed.”

“No negotiations shall take place between the procuring entity and a supplier with respect to a tender submitted by the supplier.”

It also required that “all suppliers are treated fairly and impartially and shall be communicated without delay to all suppliers concerned.”

“A procuring entity shall evaluate the qualifications of suppliers according to the criteria or requirements set out in the documents by which tenders, bids or proposals in relation to the procurement contract are sought, and according to no other criteria.”

And it does not give any provision for negotiations with any losing bidders prior to or after the tender adjudications process determines the winner.

Comments (1)

The only diffrence is that suppliers will now have to pay their bribes to this new committee instead of dealing with small fish scattered all over the country. Corruption in Zim can only be dealt with if we cut off the head of the snake and burn it, together with the carcass. It is utter stupidity to expext a person who has rigged the past 3 elections by paying bribes to be at the forefront of the fight against corruption. We need a Gaddafi style solution pronto or else lets just suffer in silence.

Mamvemve - 27 March 2014

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