THE much-anticipated construction of the new senate building faces another hurdle and is yet to begin after a Chinese company, Qing Jian Group, recently challenged the government’s decision to award the tender to fellow Chinese company, Yanjian Construction.
The building, earmarked for construction at the Mpilo Hill in Maseru, was initially expected to cost the government about M140 million.
The costs, which have since ballooned to M167 million, are expected to increase further due to the ongoing fight over the tendering process.
Qing Jian Group had been controversially awarded the multi-million maloti tender early this year before it was taken away from them.
The Chinese company was initially disqualified from the tendering process in 2012 for its failure to submit tender documents translated into English and authenticated by the Chinese Embassy.
However, Qing Jian bounced back into the reckoning when the Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Public Works, Mothabathe Hlalele, ordered the reevaluation of the tendering process in 2017 on the grounds that the company along with Sigma Construction and China Shanxi Construction had been “unfairly disqualified”.
Mr Hlalele’s decision was subsequently invalidated in June this year by the parliamentary Portfolio Committee on the Prime Minister’s Ministers and Departments, Governance, Foreign Relations and Information Cluster which ruled that the three companies were ““lawfully and rightfully” disqualified in 2012.
The committee said that Qing Jian was awarded the contract after Mr Hlalele made an “unilateral decision to order reevaluation of the tender” despite the 2016 High Court ruling that the tendering processes must proceed with Flash Construction, Yanjian Construction and NM Khojane Construction as the preferred bidders.
This year in June, the national assembly adopted the report by the Prime Minister’s Ministers Portfolio Committee which recommended that Yanjian Construction be awarded the contract.
Immediately after the national assembly adopted the report, clerk of the national assembly, Fine Maema, wrote to the Ministry of Public Works to inform them of the decision which paved the way for the start of construction of senate building.
Although Mr Hlalele proceeded to award the tender to Yanjian Construction, the work is yet to start after Qing Jian Group lodged a complaint over the decision to strip them of the tender and give it to Yanjian.
In an exclusive interview with the Sunday Express, the clerk of the senate, Selete Molete said the decision to award the tender to Yanjian became binding once the report was tabled and adopted in the national assembly.
“Upon receiving a letter from the clerk of the national assembly, the Ministry of Public Works awarded the tender to Yanjian Construction. Immediately afterwards, the Ministry of Public Works wrote to all bidders advising them of the decision (to award the tender to Yanjian).
“Unfortunately, during the cooling period, Qing Jian Group wrote to the Public Works (ministry) to lodge a formal complaint and we were subsequently informed of that development on 16 October 2018.
“On our own we cannot do anything except to wait for the ministry responsible to complete negotiations with the complainant,” Mr Molete said, adding, “we are really frustrated by the delays in the construction of the new building”.
Mr Molete said the costs for the construction works were ballooning with each year. He said in 2012, Yanjian Construction’s bid was valued at M84 564 207, 22 and this ballooned to M166 780 318, 66 in 2017.
“This shows that the costs will go up again this year. The costs keep getting higher with each passing year and that is really frustrating for us,” Mr Molete said.
Early this year, PS Hlalele said it was his responsibility to ensure that he acted in accordance with the laws governing the tender procedures.
“In executing all my tasks, I consult with my minister and other actors. And in this senate tender, all operations were conducted within the confines of the laws of this country,” Mr Hlalele said.
He explained that while the ministry was smoothly managing other mega construction tenders in other ministries without any hiccups, he did not understand why “some people in the senate office” were interfering with the tender process for the construction of the senate building.
“We have been confronted with some challenges pointing to resistance and undue interference by some elements within the office of the senate.
“It is important for all those who expected me to be a rubber-stamp principal secretary to know that I am not going to rubber-stamp corruption. It is my responsibility to question everything that passes through my desk and if I am not satisfied, it is my responsibility to make sure set procedures are followed,” Mr Hlalele said.