Govt defends Bidvest deal
Lekhetho Ntsukunyane and ’Marafaele Mohloboli
THE government is standing its ground and has vowed not to reverse its decision to award a lucrative fleet management contract to a South African company, Bidvest Fleet Company, despite strong opposition from a local consortium.
The government has also refuted claims the decision to award the contract to Bidvest would exclude nationals from benefiting from arguably the most lucrative state tender, insisting Basotho would still benefit from the “new arrangement” through leasing their cars to the government through Bidvest.
Communications, Science and Technology Minister Khotso Letsatsi, said implementation of the Bidvest deal was already in full swing after the government recently concluded an agreement with the South African company to manage a fleet of 1200 vehicles through a computerised tracking system.
Addressing the media in Maseru this week, Mr Letsatsi said the government was already receiving the “first lot” of 300 vehicles, out of the 600 vehicles, it is supposed to purchase from outside the country. The government will next week move to invite interested Basotho across the country to submit their applications to lease out their cars to the government, he said. Another 600 vehicles are scheduled to be leased from ordinary Basotho to constitute a fleet of 1 200 to be managed by Bidvest.
The government last month cancelled a tender process for the management of its fleet saying it could no longer afford to finance the deal under the parameters envisaged under that tender.
It decided to sign a new four-year contract with Bidvest, a company that had not bid for the cancelled tender.
A joint venture company consisting of Fleet Service Lesotho (Pty) Ltd and Lebelonyane (Pty) Ltd (Fleet Services) then went to court seeking an order to stop the government from engaging Bidvest.
Bidvest had originally been awarded a six month contract to run the government fleet from 1 October 2015 to 31 March 2016 after the expiry of the government’s fleet management contract with Avis.
Because of that short-term deal, the government had promised to exclude Bidvest from any new tender to find a new long-term operator to replace Avis.
However the government shocked all and sundry when Dr Khaketla announced the cancellation of the tender process, preferring instead to enter a new long-term deal with Bidvest, which had not bid for the tender as earlier agreed in light of its enjoyment of the six month contract.
Announcing the new deal with Bidvest in June, Dr Khaketla said the company would provide a computerised fleet management services for the next four years. Under the new contract, the minister said, the government would buy 600 vehicles and hire another 600 from ordinary Basotho, with Bidvest only managing the fleet. She also explained that the government decided to cancel the tender because it did not have enough money to continue with the route envisaged in that tender.
A revised tender evaluation report which only came to the attention of the joint venture company after it had already gone to court to challenge the minister’s Bidvest decision proved that the joint venture company had indeed been recommended as the recipient of the tender, scoring 81.85 points against 68.21 for the other shortlisted bidder, Avis Fleet Services (Seahlolo).
After it got hold of the report, the joint venture company withdrew the application it had already filed to enable it to file a new one incorporating the report to provide the court with more hard facts to prove its claims that it was short-changed.
DC youth league leaders claimed the joint venture company had been ditched after rebuffing an alleged M4 million bribe request for Dr Khaketla (see separate story). But Mr Letsatsi appeared to pour scorn over the claims, saying the implementation of the new contract with Bidvest was now in full swing.
Under this arrangement, the minister explained, the government was also effectively partnering with the public.
“This partnership means the government will buy 50 percent of its vehicles and then hire the remaining 50 percent directly from the public. The public will have an opportunity to lease their vehicles to the government from all over the ten districts of the country, with the government ensuring it hires 60 cars per district to make a total of 600 vehicles. The government, on the other hand, will buy 600 vehicles to make up the 1200 vehicles needed. The government fleet will be managed through a computerised fleet management system (tracking system) by Bidvest to the benefit of all……,” the minister said.
Mr Letsatsi said the court case filed by one of the losing bidders had delayed the matter. But after withdrawal of that case on 25 July 2016, the government had proceeded to sign a contract with Bidvest. He was effectively referring to the withdrawal of the case by the joint venture company. But the firm said it withdrew the application because it wanted to file a new one with irrefutable evidence to back its claims, meaning the battle for the contract was far from over.
Mr Letsatsi said the deal was now rolling and appeared to pour scorn to allegations that the contract had been saddled by corruption.
“I want to take this opportunity to assure you that the allegations (of corruption) you have been hearing from the radio stations are not true. However, we cannot discuss that now because some of the people involved have already been taken to the courts of law over those claims.
“As the Communications minister, I have talked to aggrieved parties and invited them to a roundtable so we can understand what their issues are. We want to understand their basis for making all the allegations they have been making. Where do they get all that information?
“I am not ashamed to tell you that I literally prayed hard and begged them to come so we can resolve this matter amicably for the benefit of all Basotho,” said the minister.
He added: “However, as the government, we are not saying that people should turn a blind eye on acts of corruption where they see them. But issues of corruption do not belong to radio stations. They should be directed to the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences (DCEO) or the police and courts of law.”