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Govt fleet tender rigged

by Lesotho Times

…senior government officials suspected of illegally submitting tender bids

Ntsebeng Motsoeli

THE recent tendering process for the procurement of the government vehicles fleet services from locals has been marred by controversy amid indications that several senior government officials also submitted their bids in violation of regulations that forbade them from tendering.

The tendering process which was held over the weekend failed to yield the required 341 vehicles after hundreds of applications were disqualified for failing to meet the requirements.

This was revealed by the Ministry of Finance’s fleet manager, Folojeng Folojeng, in an exclusive interview the Lesotho Times this week.

Mr Folojeng also said that more applicants could be disqualified in the coming days as it is suspected that senior government officials also submitted their bids in violation of government regulations that expressly forbade them from tendering.

Finance Minister Moeketsi Majoro first announced in March this year that the cabinet had resolved to lease 1400 vehicles from Basotho who include taxi operators, disabled groups, youth, women’s groups and legislators who were not cabinet ministers.

Others who were excluded from tendering are senior government officials such as directors in the ministries, principal secretaries and deputy ministers.

However, Mr Folojeng said they had received information that some of these officials could have either sneaked in their bids or used ordinary Basotho as “fronts” when the tender bids were submitted during the weekend.

Mr Folojeng said it had been expected that 341 vehicles would be procured for the government fleet under the first phase of the procurement which was held on Friday and Saturday in Maseru.

However, the ministry failed to select sufficient numbers that would enable them to choose 341 vehicles after hundreds of applications were turned down for failing to meet the requirements.

“We were not able to get the 341 successful applicants we had hoped for,” Mr Folojeng said.

He however, could not say how many applicants were successful, adding, “We are still in the process of consolidating all the information and a report will be written and submitted to the government”.

He said more applicants were likely to be removed from the list of those who had been selected after they received tip-offs that some people who belong to the groups which were excluded from tendering had never-the-less submitted their applications.

“We have received information that some people who have been excluded from tendering due to their official positions went ahead and applied. We are on the lookout for such applications and they will be disqualified once they are identified.

“If such applications are discovered later, legal measures will still be taken against such applicants. We therefore appeal to people who may know of such applicants to report them. We will also not allow anyone to front for other people in the tender bids,” Mr Folojeng said.

When Dr Majoro first announced in March this year that the cabinet had resolved to lease vehicles from Basotho, the announcement was generally welcomed as an initiative aimed at empowering Basotho.

There was however, a massive public outcry over the inclusion of legislators among the list of beneficiaries.

Cross sections of society argued that the legislators were already enjoying huge benefits in the form of salaries and allowances during their term of office.

The legislators earn salaries up to M469 884 in salaries per annum and M150 in daily sitting allowances. They are also entitled to M500 000 in interest-free loans.

Dr Majoro explained at the time that the decision to include the legislators was made after realising that despite all the benefits the legislators enjoyed, they were burdened with huge financial responsibilities in their constituencies.

He said their current benefits were not enough to cater for their constituency commitments like assisting poor families to bury their loved ones.

But in a new turn of events last month, Dr Majoro announced that the government would no longer be leasing vehicles from legislators.

“We had included the backbenchers but we got a backlash from the public.

“We listened and we decided to exclude them (legislators from the leasing their vehicles to the government) because we also realised that it would compromise their relations with the electorate,” Dr Majoro said.

Dr Majoro further said they were working with the police to investigate reports of senior government officials who were using ordinary people as ‘fronts’ to lease vehicles to the government. If discovered, he said such contracts would be terminated immediately.

This week, Mr Folojeng said most applications were also turned down because they failed to other requirements including those which stipulated that the mileage for the vehicles should not exceed 30 000 kilometres.

Other requirements included the submission of a vehicle service plan, a completed application form accompanied by certified identity documents, a tax clearance from the Lesotho Revenue Authority (LRA) and a letter from a potential sponsor for people who are yet to purchase cars.

Applicants who already own cars were required to provide proof of ownership of their vehicles which included a certified copy of the registration certificate.

Targeted groups were expected to submit certified copies of their associations’ constitutions, certified copies of the members’ identity documents and comprehensive insurance certificates.

“Many applications were not selected because they failed to meet all the requirements. People must have missed some of the requirements and so they did not submit all the necessary documents,” Mr Folojeng said.

Mr Folojeng said they learned that some people thought that they were only expected to provide the tax clearance certificates after they had been awarded the tenders.

“Some people thought that they would only provide the tax clearances at a later stage if their applications were successful. But that was not the case as all the requirements were to be met when submitting the applications,” Mr Folojeng said.

The tender box for the government fleet procurement was opened in the presence of the hopeful applicants at the ‘Manthabiseng Convention Centre on Friday and the selection process continued on Saturday.

Mr Folojeng said they did everything possible to ensure the selection process was transparent and fair to everyone.

“Every step of the process was conducted in full view of the applicants and the rest of the public. The tender box was opened in the presence of everyone. The picking of the applications was done by five volunteers drawn from the audience.

“They picked the applications from the tender box and placed them in their respective categories and these were then grouped according to the districts of origin of the applicants.  The applications were read out against the check list and those that did not meet requirements were discarded,” Mr Folojeng said.

Besides empowering locals, the leasing of the government fleet from locals is expected to significantly reduce expenditure after the recent scandal where the previous government entered into a costly fleet services deal with South African company, Bidvest Limited.

The Pakalitha Mosisili-led former government courted controversy by awarding the vehicle fleet services tender to Bidvest without going to tender in August 2016.

The Bidvest deal, which was for 48 months, was prematurely terminated in April 2017 at the huge cost of M108 million, the Auditor General’s report for the 2017/2018 financial year revealed.

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