Nothing corrupt about solar tender: Mavhaire

HARARE - Energy minister Dzikamai Mavhaire says there is “nothing corrupt” about expanding the number of bidders and implementation partners for a major solar tender project since Zimbabwe is in critical need of power.

This comes as the Masvingo senator and the State Procurement Board (SPB) have been under fire for giving extra mandates to Intratrek Zimbabwe (Private) Limited (Intratrek), and ZTE Corporation (ZTE) to build two 100 megawatt (MW) power stations with Noah Gwariro’s Zimbabwe Power Company (ZPC).

“It’s unfortunate that our people have embraced this culture of seeing problems (and corruption) where they do not exist. I mean, l do not understand how we (the tender board and government) erred in arriving at the decision it did because Zimbabwe is in desperate need of such infrastructure as electricity,” Mavhaire said, adding there was “nothing scandalous or corrupt about efforts to add more power to the national grid” and efforts to cut a current deficit of 1 400MW-plus.

“From our own domestic consumption to the (strategic) goal of attracting investors, how are supposed to create jobs (in local industries) and provide a basis for wooing investors when the basic things that they will ask for is not place,” he said, further suggesting government had often come under unfair criticism for trying to do its best in the circumstances.

After a total of six bidders had expressed their interest in the July 2012 100 MW solar tender – and won by China Jiangxi for International Corporation (CJIC) – controversy has raged after Charles Kuwaza’s board decided to co-opt Intratrek and another Beijing-linked firm ZTE to participate in the Gwanda project.

According to a slew of letters and SPB transcript seen by the Daily News, the under-fire agency based its decision to award the latter two companies on the grounds of their financial and technical scoring – where they are listed as number two, and three, respectively.

Even, though, the SPB has been accused of flouting tender procedures in the southern Zimbabwe solar projects, the Harare-based institution has not only clearly stated to Intratrek and ZTE that they are still required to fulfil certain conditions, but their financial and technical evaluations were impressive enough to warrant an adjustment, documents show.

“The accounting officer should engage the two technically compliant bidders namely Intratrek Zimbabwe and ZTE Corporation (Zimbabwe) for negotiations for additional solar power projects with similar specifications at the benchmark price of the lowest bidder… China Jiangxi Corporation,” said the board’s accounting officer Cledwyn Nyanhete in a February 24 letter to ZPC.

While the other bidders include Afriven Investments, Lanlake Power and No 17 Metallurgical Construction, they failed dismally on a number of issues – thus scoring an overall rating of 47 percent, 63 and 57,5 percent.

“Bidders listed… did not present comprehensive funding offers as they failed to cover most key areas of concern. According to the request for proposal, the minimum number of tender evaluation points for funding tender required is 70%,” read the government papers.

Although Nyanhete has provided a clear indication that Intratrek and ZTE are to lower their $248 million, and $360 million charges, the SPB and Mavhaire have come under scrutiny for their decision with opponents of the deal – both within and outside government – querying how the hand-picked firms were able to halve their bids by tens of millions.

Amid howls of discontent and protests by some losing bidders, Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa has announced the establishment of a Cabinet committee on Infrastructure and Utilities to oversee tender processes at state-owned institutions “to ensure transparency” at these key bodies.

In particular, the opponents point out to Nyanhete’s January 21 letter to Gwariro and which stated that the Zesa subsidiary (ZPC)’s request for an additional two companies to provide 200MW stations had been unsuccessful.

“The scope of the tender was 100MW not two projects as proposed. The variation of scope midway the process would have been unfair to bidders whose quotations had been prepared on that basis of a single 100MW power plant,” the dispatch allegedly stated.

“The RFP did not provide for a multiple award, neither did it contain a lot-limitation clause to justify departure from the rubric at Section 31 (i) (m) of the Procurement Act which requires that; a procuring entity shall accept whichever valid tender that offers the lowest price,” it said, adding the proposals to expand the scope and award criteria violated section 34(5) of the Procurement Act, which said a procuring organisation shall evaluate the qualification of suppliers based on the criteria in the original or respective tender documents by which bids related to the contract were sought.

Accordingly, the accounting officer was slapped with a $900 fine and administration fee in line with statutory instrument 159 of October last year “for failure to follow tender procedures”.

Crucially, they claim that ZPC and the SPB had “no legal basis” to alter the tender, and the latter was dishing out some multi-million dollar contracts to “undeserving bidders”.

According to state-media reports, Kuwaza has conceded to a violation of tender procedure in this particular matter, but says a re-issue would have prolonged the pain of acute power shortages, and blunt strategies to reduce the current deficit.

“The ZPC went on to propose that, as a result of power shortages that this country was facing, which had become a matter of national security, it would recommend that the second-lowest technically compliant bidder (Intratrek) be considered with a view to speeding up power supply to the country,” he said, adding a green light was given since “tendering for complex projects” was a long and expensive process.

Intratrek, which had initially taken its fight for a right to participate in the solar tender project but later withdrew its Administrative Court appeal or challenge, is partnering Chint Electric – one of China’s biggest solar companies and with a $5 billion turnover.

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