- accuses Local Govt ministry of corruptly rejecting his joint bid with UNIK
SMALL Business Development, Cooperatives and Marketing Minister, Chalane Phori, is breathing fire and accusing the Ministry of Local Government and Chieftainship of corruption after his company lost out in the lucrative Mpilo Boulevard tender.
Mr Phori’s Tsoapos Brick Works Company submitted a joint bid for the tender with controversial Chinese businessman’s UNIK Construction Engineering but they lost out to the SCIG-SMGG-TIM Joint Venture.
The Mpilo Boulevard tender was first advertised in April 2019 and among other things, the successful bidder is expected to construct new road links, flyover bridges for vehicles as well as pedestrian bridges.
It is envisaged that when complete, the new look Mpilo Boulevard will reduce traffic congestion in the city and also reduce carnage on the roads.
On 21 October 2019, the MCC wrote to one, Wang Zengkai, a representative of the SCIG-SMGG-TIM Joint Venture, informing him that his company had been awarded the tender.
“I am pleased to inform you that yours has been selected as a most favorable tender.
“The tender price is M380 782 517, 97. The Maseru City Council is prepared to award you the contract subject to the receipt of the bank performance guarantee which you have already undertaken to provide,” MCC’s Purchasing Officer, Selemeng Leluma, states in his letter to Mr Zengkai.
This has however, not gone down well with Mr Phori who believes UNIK and his company were unfairly treated and the tender was “corruptly” awarded to an undeserving company.
Their joint bid was disqualified on the grounds that UNIK submitted a power of attorney document that was not signed by its managing director.
Mr Phori however, believes the issue of the unsigned power of attorney document was a mere excuse because the Local Government ministry had already determined beforehand to disqualify them and corruptly award the tender to the SCIG-SMGG-TIM Joint Venture.
He said “there were clear signs” of corruption in the awarding of the tender because it was given to a company whose tender documents were submitted in Mandarin instead of English and whose bid was M30 million higher than theirs.
Moreover, he said, the local government ministry dissolved the MCC tender board and hurriedly appointed a new one with a specific mandate to award this tender to the SCIG-SMGG-TIM Joint Venture.
He said despite his grievances over the awarding of the tender, he did not approach former Local Government minister, Litšoane Litšoane, new Local Government minister, Mahala Molapo, Local Government principal secretary, Khothatso Tšooana and MCC Town Clerk, Moeko Maboee, to complain.
He said he refrained from complaining lest he be viewed as seeking to use his ministerial position to influence their decision-making. He said he would have wanted to win the tender fairly, not for the MCC to unfairly disqualify them.
“We had heard that they were changing the board to appoint a new one to sit and make decisions on the tender. What information did the new board possibly have? What do they know about this tender? What were they running away from?
“I don’t want to go into the deep secrets but the company that was awarded the contract submitted their documents in Mandarin. Do those people at the MCC know how to read Mandarin? Their winning tender bid was M30 million higher than ours and I am surprised that these people went to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) to say all of the things they said because we kept quiet and chose to write them a letter of complaint during the cooling period after the awarding of the tender,” Mr Phori said.
He was alluding to last Tuesday’s sensational revelations by Messrs Tšooana and Maboee that he (Mr Phori) attempted to arm-twist them into awarding the tender to UNIK. Mr Tšooana told the PAC that Mr Phori was supported by the First Lady, ‘Maesaiah Thabane, and Mr Molapo when he directed that the lucrative tender be awarded to Mr Xie’s UNIK Construction company.
Mr Tšooana said the directive was given at a State House meeting he and Mr Maboee were summoned to attend on 15 October 2019.
He said Ms Thabane and the two ministers wanted UNIK awarded the tender to reward Mr Xie for assisting Prime Minister Thomas Thabane.
Mr Xie allegedly offered financial assistance to Dr Thabane and members of All Basotho Convention (ABC) party during their time in exile in South Africa during the political instability from 2015 to 2017.
Popularly known as John, Mr Xie is Dr Thabane’s Head of Special Projects and his Special Envoy and Trade Advisor on the China-Asia Trade Network.
According to Mr Tšooana, Ms Thabane and the two ministers delivered the order in a meeting at State House, Maseru on 15 October 2019. This was just three days before the MCC’s tender board met to study the tendering evaluation report before deciding the winning bid.
Mr Tšooana however, absolved Dr Thabane of any wrongdoing, saying although he attended the meeting, the premier advised them against any improper conduct and instead told them to “go and do the right thing” by awarding the tender to the deserving bidder.
But Mr Phori subsequently denied any wrong-doing in an interview with the Sunday Express’ sister, Lesotho Times, publication. He said that in addition to being a minister, he was also a businessman and he had jointly bid for the Mpilo tender with UNIK.
He said went to the State House not as a minister but as a businessman to ask Dr Thabane to intervene in the matter after realising that his company – Tsoapos Brick Works – was allegedly being victimised by the Local Government ministry. He said Tsoapos Brick Works tendered for the job in partnership with UNIK.
“We also tendered for the Mpilo job but we were not awarded the contract despite that we were number one. What annoys me here is the element of corruption that I have picked; that element of corruption made me to go to State House,” Mr Phori said.
He produced a document which appeared to show that UNIK’s tendering price for the Mpilo job was M348 322 542, 52 million while that of the winning bidder was M379 036 817, 98.
He said this forced him to go to State House to ask Dr Thabane to intervene because his company was being victimised for the second time by the same ministry in two years.
“I am an ABC member. I decided not to go to the media but to go to the leader (Dr Thabane) because the ABC is part of the coalition government. What I expected to do? I wanted the leader to intervene and order those people to do the right thing.”
“Are they (Messrs Tšooana and Maboee) saying I should keep quiet? I work as a minister here but none of my relatives work here. Even my sister-in-law who worked at Lesotho Revenue Authority as a manager was fired by this regime. Should we continue to keep quiet?”
He said he was not going to keep quiet when “we have all contributed to make sure that they (Messrs Tšooana and Maboee) are employed.”
“Yes I did say that we engaged in very difficult acts to ensure that the party survives and when it comes to this (tender), they (Messrs Tšooana and Maboee) should not treat us as though we don’t have a stake. But I reminded them that they should not engage in the corruption that I saw about to happen here in the awarding of the tender (to SCIG and others).”
He said he did not ask the MCC to do him any favours but he went to State House to ensure that his company was not unfairly treated. He said he wanted things done in a transparent manner.
“Anyone who submits a tender expects to win and no one should be disqualified under the false pretence that they did not meet certain requirements yet the tender requirements were explained. That is what I dislike. They know what I said. I related this story (at the State House meeting) and where we (ABC) all come from. They should not forget that and treat us like we are strangers. I never went there to ask that they assist me with the tender or whatever, I have never done that.
“The problem is that as the ABC we disrespect each other. I cannot be victimised twice. I unfairly lost for the first time when I was number one but I kept quiet. It is now becoming a trend and I dislike this repetition (of unfairly losing again) by one ministry,” Mr Phori said.
Asked why he suspected that the dissolution of the MCC board was connected to the awarding of the Mpilo Boulevard tender, Mr Phori said there were clear signs that the two were connected.
“There were never these comments (about the unsigned power of attorney document) when the evaluation team sat down. These comments only came when UNIK was singled out to be victimised. The MCC tender board was hurriedly dissolved and the new one decides to award the tender. It (new tender) didn’t even have a single meeting. I have interests as a businessman. Why we were unfairly disqualified? Would you have folded your arms and not done anything? Even if it is a madman, you cannot take food out of their mouths.
“The timing of dissolving the tender board and appointing new one is just questionable, there is a relationship there. The dissolved tender knew this tender process in and out and the new does not know that the reasons they advanced to disqualify us were not put forward during the evaluation process,” Mr Phori said.
When asked if he did not think that MCC disqualified UNIK to save itself from any association with the controversial Mr Xie who many have accused of being favoured by government to the extent that he seemed to have a stranglehold on government tenders, Mr Phori said there was no law against giving a deserving individual several tenders.