Transport ministry in tender storm

HARARE – Zimbabwe’s Transport ministry is in the eye of a storm over the continued use of “informal tenders” to procure key road rehabilitation materials, which are above the $500 000 threshold for uncapped expenditures.

A local company, Pushduck Enterprises (Private) Limited (Pushduck), has raised complaints about departmental practices, which might be prejudicial to the fiscus.

This also comes as President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s incoming government has declared zero-tolerance on corruption.

While Transport ministry permanent secretary Machivenyika Mapuranga has declined to comment on the issues, Mhishi Nkomo Legal Practice, acting on behalf of Pushduck, has petitioned the ministry to retract a recent advert for the supply of bitumen, stone and concrete aggregates, haulage of road and bridge materials, and marking materials published under tender numbers: RDS 19 to 23 of 2017.

“The demand was made on the basis that it offended the . . . Procurement (Amendment) Regulations, Statutory Instrument 19 of 2015 as read with Statutory Instrument 171 of 2002.

“The quoted piece of legislation specifically states that the maximum value of informal tenders shall not exceed $500 000 . . .,” the lawyers said in a November 28 letter, adding it “would pursue all legal routes until due process, fairness and justice was served”.

“ . . . the statutory limit on informal tenders which states that it should not exceed $500 000 in value is not limited to single transaction.

“The cumulative supply of the products should not exceed the statutory figure. We have at our disposal proof that shows that from all the eight provinces in 2016, the figures exceeded the statutory limit,” Pushduck’s lawyers said.

While the Zimbabwean trading outfit’s representatives insist that informal tender parameters have long been set or gazetted under a 2015 instrument, the Transport ministry has been operating under an almost similar regime for some time now and such that it is in the middle of implementing the 2016-17 informal tenders, which have already run into millions of dollars.

Eric Gumbi, the roads department director, could also not be drawn for a comment on the controversial decisions, which could see about $8 million being spent on the bitumen and related product-supply contracts.

Amid fears that ministry officials were avoiding the formal tender route to influence processes, Pushduck and other suppliers feel the jobs must be subjected to an open tender system, which also guarantees thorough scrutiny via the revamped State Procurement Board.

As it is, one of the issues that have caused serious consternation relates to performance bonds, which are just being signed on a sheet of paper attached to the informal tender documents and whereas such undertakings are normally given by recognisable financial institutions, including commercial banks, under the other channel.

Largely, these financial guarantees are meant to protect the government in the event of inferior product supply or outright fraud and there are widespread fears that the previous tenders were fraught with such dangers — where suppliers have failed to deliver and no action has been taken.

But Gumbi — who has recently escaped an internal probe over various acts of misconduct - insists his office’s conduct and actions were above-board.