New twist to airport tender dispute

Lesotho Times
5 Min Read

Pascalinah Kabi

THE Ministry of Transport has petitioned the Finance ministry to reverse its decision to nullify the awarding of a tender for consultancy work at Moshoeshoe 1 International Airport to a South African company, LTE Construction.

The Ministry of Transport had in June 2021 awarded the tender to supervise the refurbishment of the airport to the controversial LTE Construction. But the decision was reversed by the Finance ministry’s Public Procurement Advisory Division (PPAD) after complaints that the tender had been unprocedurally awarded to LTE Construction.

The PPAD is a division within the Ministry of Finance tasked with overseeing public procurement by state institutions. The Ministry of Transport has now asked the ministry to reverse the PPAD’s decision.

The PPAD cancelled the tender award after the WSSL Joint Venture, allegedly linked to controversial Chinese businessman   Yan Xie, had complained that LTE had been unprocedurally awarded the tender.

The tender is for the provision of consultancy services and supervision of whichever company will be selected to refurbish the country’s only international airport.

LTE is a controversial company which has often hit the headlines in South Africa for allegedly corruptly winning tenders worth billions. LTE has been accused of claiming payment for projects it did not complete in Gauteng Province and of bungling some water projects in Limpopo. It has been accused of buying politicians in the ruling African National Congress (ANC) and of making contributions to that ruling party to cover its alleged devious tracks.

LTE had been chosen from a list of six companies, including WSSL, which had been invited to submit their bids through a selective tendering process by the transport ministry. It is not clear which other companies had been invited to bid.

Disgruntled with the outcome, WSSL successfully appealed to the Ministry of Finance’s PPAD to order the transport ministry to redo the tendering process.

WSSL alleged that it had been treated unfairly as it had not even been allowed to see the evaluation report which would have shown where it fell short in its bid.

The PPAD had also ordered the transport ministry to conduct an open tender process to allow any interested company to bid for the work.

The PPAD communicated its decision to the Ministry of Transport in a 10 September 2021 letter to the ministry’s principal secretary, Maile Masoebe.

However, Mr Masoebe this week said he had since petitioned the Ministry of Finance’s Tribunal to overturn the PPAD’s decision. Apart from the PPAD, the Finance ministry also has a separate Tribunal which adjudicates disputes in tenders.

“I can confirm that the Ministry of Transport has referred the matter to the Tribunal,” Mr Masoebe said in an interview with the Lesotho Times this week.

“All the papers were filed last week and the consortium challenging our decision to award the tender to LTE has already been served (with the papers). We are just waiting for the Tribunal to inform us of the hearing date. However, I cannot go into further details as this is now a legal matter,” Mr Masoebe said.

The impasse could cost Lesotho dearly. Government sources this week said the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) had issued fresh threats to close the Moshoeshoe I Airport if it is not refurbished by year-end.

ICAO first issued the threats to close down the airport in December 2020. It said several years of neglect had left the airport facilities in a state of disrepair.

Should the work not be finished in line with ICAO’s demands, the airport could be forcibly closed by the international body which is tasked with regulating all international aviation activities, the sources said.

Its closure will create a huge crisis as new travel arrangements would have to be made for His Majesty King Letsie III, Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro, ministers, government officials, diplomats, captains of industry and other ordinary travellers who rely on the airport for international travel. They would most likely be forced to travel long distances by road to international airports in South Africa.

The ailing tourism sector, which is already reeling from the Covid-19 induced intermittent lockdowns which have caused a decline in tourist arrivals, would be thrown into further turmoil by the closure of the airport.

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