…stands by decision to award lucrative tender to China Geo despite local contractors’ protests
THE government has stuck by its decision to award the tender for the construction of the M900 million Monontša to Marakabei Road to China Geo Engineering Corporation (CGEC).
This is despite strong protests from the Consortium of Lesotho Contractors (CLC) that the award was done without an open tender process.
The CLC has also raised concerns that the government does not conduct due diligence checks to establish the bonafides of foreign companies.
The tender was initially awarded in January this year but construction work never took off after the CLC questioned the tender process arguing that it lacked transparency.
But in the latest turn of events, the Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Public Works, Mothabathe Hlalele, told this publication that the ministry had once again given CGEC the nod.
Mr Hlalele said the ministry stuck with CGEC after a rigorous tendering process evaluated by an independent consultant engaged the ministry.
“The tender was awarded to CGEC two weeks ago and the decision has already been communicated to all companies that had tendered for the job,” Mr Hlalele told the Sunday Express.
He said the contract negotiations with CGEC will soon start after the cooling period had lapsed and that he did not anticipate any complaints from the losing companies because the tendering, evaluation and production of tender documents were all done by an independent consultant.
The tender, which was initially awarded to the same company through selective tendering early this year, was frozen after howls of protests from the CLC that the ministry was favouring Chinese-owned companies ahead of local ones.
The CLC also raised concerns that the government does not conduct due diligence checks to establish the bonafides of foreign companies amid revelations that CGEC was in 2011 placed on the World Bank’s corruption and fraud blacklist.
A report carried in the South China Morning Post on 13 December 2011 states that CGEC was among 152 companies placed on a corruption and fraud blacklist by the World Bank.
Of these, 49 were British companies, 38 were Bangladeshi, 37 from Indonesia, 17 from the United States and 11 from China.
“The bank has taken a major step towards greater transparency and accountability by authorising the publication of decisions in new sanctions cases,” former World Bank President, Robert Zoellick, said of the blacklist at the time.
At the time this publication broke the story that CGEC had previously been placed on the World Bank’s corruption and fraud blacklist, Mr Hlalele said he was not aware of such information.
“What I only know is that they have worked on different projects in the country where they have been doing a very fantastic job. It is my first time to hear that they have been blacklisted by the World Bank…I want to believe that the Roads Directorate has done background checks on this company because they have massive experience in such matters,” Mr Hlalele said at the time.
The CLC furiously protested the government’s deal with CGEC.
“Our stand point on this issue is very simple and clear. We just want to know which procedures were followed because the expectations were that this work will be tendered for and we were surprised to learn that there is a certain company that has been given the job without a tender process.
“Procurement guidelines need to be followed when jobs are given,” he said, adding that his organisation was prepared to take legal action against the ministry to stop the construction,” part of the CLC’s letter to the government stated.
Mr Hlalele however, defended the government’s decision to award the deal to CGEC, saying it was a collective cabinet decision which took several factors into account including his ministry’s past experiences with local contractors who performed shoddy jobs after being awarded tenders.
“The decision to award the tender was made by cabinet. We are all aware of the procedures that must be followed when there are jobs but there are also exceptions like in this case. In fact, it was the company (CGEC) that proposed to fund and build the road for us and cabinet liked their proposal.
“They will use their money to begin construction because the ministry does not have the money now and we will pay them over time,” Mr Hlalele said.
He further said that in addition to the Marakabei-Monontša Road, CGEC would also build another road from Taung in the Thaba-Tseka district to Mokhotlong.
“We actually have roads that were marked as our priorities in the five-year period and these are tarred roads from Mafeteng to Mount Moorosi, Maqhaka to Hleoheng, Thaba-Tseka to Katse and Mositsaneng to Ha Tšepo. There will also be many gravel roads and we will also refurbish all the roads leading to Maseru town.
“We are open to proposals from different companies for all these roads and if a company proposes to use their own funds to begin construction on the understanding that we will pay them later, they will be awarded the job because the ministry currently does not have enough money to construct all these roads.”
Mr Hlalele said while they appreciated the CLC’s concerns, it was however, an indisputable fact that many local contractors performed substandard work which ultimately cost the government more in maintaining the roads.
“The other fact that we can’t run away from is that some of these local contractors perform substandard work and in the end this costs the government a lot more to maintain roads. So, we needed to go for quality when awarding the tender. This was a direct directive from cabinet,” Mr Hlalele said.
Mr Hlalele’s stance on some local contractors appears to have merit. A few years ago, a local contractor who was awarded a major road construction job did a shoddy job that left a section of the tarred road in need of repairs shortly afterwards as it had split into parts.