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Row over M18m Road Fund tender

by Sunday Express
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Pascalinah Kabi

A NASTY dispute has erupted after the Road Fund cancelled an M18 million tender to Bataung Chabeli Construction to upgrade infrastructure at three key border posts.

The Road Fund insists it cancelled the contract, awarded in March 2019 and terminated in March 2020, because of non-performance by Bataung Chabeli Construction.  But the construction company disagrees. It alleges that the Road Fund is cancelling the contract to “corruptly” award it to another company and wants the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences (DCEO) to probe the matter.

Bataung Chabeli Construction is now seeking arbitration to determine wrongdoing in the dispute.  But while seeking the commencement of the arbitral process, the company alleges the Road Fund has already advertised the tender to upgrade the Maseru, Maputsoe and Butha-Buthe border gates with a view to “illegally” award the project to another company. It has asked the DCEO to probe and halt that process.

The Road Fund on the other hand accuses Bataung Chabeli Construction of clutching at straws.  It says it correctly cancelled the contract after the company failed to do what it was contracted to do.

“We had to terminate the contract because of the contractors’ non-performance,” said Road Fund Chief Executive Officer Nkekeletse Makara in an interview.

“We had no option but to terminate the contract. We have seen that letter (to the DCEO) and have written to them to seek clarification because I am totally clueless about what that they are talking about,” Mr Makara said.

The Road Fund CEO insisted Bataung Chabeli Construction had been given “countless opportunities” to conclude the project but they had failed. It was unfortunate they were now making baseless allegations to justify their failures.

“We renewed their contract after they failed to conclude the works in the stipulated time and even offered to assist them to finish the job but they failed. We did not even penalize them as per the contractual obligations. These are the facts; I have documentation to support that… It’s unfortunate that instead of acknowledging their failures and self-introspecting to self-correct for the future, they now embark on a wild goose chase of unfounded allegations,” Mr Makara said.

Mr Makara seems to be supported in his arguments by Bataung Chabeli Construction’s own failure to substantiate why the Road Fund would even have awarded it the contract in the first place if the organization had someone else to “corruptly” award to in mind.

It seems improbable that the Road Fund would have taken itself through the pain of awarding the contract to Bataung Chabeli Construction, only to have a change of heart afterwards and consider awarding it to someone else.

The three border posts are a hive of activity and it is common cause that the Road Fund would want to have their upgrades completed expeditiously to avoid disrupting economic activity.

But still, Botaung Chabeli Construction insists it has been treated unfairly. The firm’s lawyers have written to the DCEO to follow up on an earlier letter in which they asked the Road Fund to be probed for corruption.

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