THE Directorate of Corruption and Economic Offences (DCEO) is investigating a M49 million fertilizer tender that was cancelled earlier this month by the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security because of various irregularities.
This is according to Agriculture and Food Security Minister Mahala Molapo, who said the tender process had been “bungled” from the onset in July this year. Six firms made a bid for the tender which was eventually awarded to Machache Trading.
However, the winning bidder’s price was M9.3 million more than the five other firms. Two companies which had also bid for the tender, Cubana Shells and Alfa Agro Chem, then lodged a complaint challenging the ministry’s decision.
Cubana Shells argued that Machache Trading’s tender document was initially set aside since its price was too high.
For its part, Alfa Agro Chem’s asserted that its fertilizer met the ministry’s stipulated technical specifications, adding that it had supplied the same product for two consecutive financial years of 2014/15 and 2015/16. The company further argued that it had the capability and experience to supply large quantities while also contending that the price difference with Machache Trading could not be justified.
The ministry’s procurement unit responded to the complainants by conceding that the tendering process did not enable a competitive environment for all bidders.
The ministry also reconsidered the quantities of fertilizer they intended to purchase in light of budgetary constraints.
“It is also important to note that there had been so many budget cuts hence the need to strike a balance between honouring the claims on mechanical operations of the last financial year and procuring fertilizer for this financial year,” the procurement unit said.
“We then discovered that in practical terms, the changes in our budget are such that there would be no sufficient funds available to cover the desired quantity under the proposed contract.”
However, Mr Molapo told a press briefing earlier this week that he handed over the tender to the DCEO to probe if there was any impropriety on the procurement unit’s part.
“As a ministry, we have learnt that this tender was mishandled from the very onset,” he said.
“We have since forwarded the tender process to the DCEO for thorough investigations.”
Mr Molapo said “tough” measures would be taken on any ministry officials found guilty of impropriety.
“The minister shall also take some lawful but stern measures against officials found guilty of corruption in the awarding of the contract.”
DCEO Public Relations Officer, ’Matlhokomelo Senoko, confirmed to the Lesotho Times that the case was under investigation.
Mr Molapo indicated that the price for the awarded tender did not make financial sense since the ministry was yet to pay arrears from last year.
“We have made extensive consultations and agreed that while the specifications could have suited the winning tender, we still have other suppliers from last year to pay to the tune of M15 million,” he said.
“Awarding the tender to the highest bidder would be detrimental to our already constrained budget.”
The minister continued: “Being in government does not give us the licence to buy expensive goods because the decision will negatively impact on the people who need to use them.
“We are determined to root out corruption and the misuse of public funds in all its forms.”
Mr Molapo promised to find a solution to the fertilizer problem within two weeks to ensure that the summer agricultural season is not negatively affected.