MASERU — The selective tender process adopted by the government for Lesotho’s e-passports is in stark contrast to the process used by the Millennium Challenge Account (MCA) for the National Identification (ID) contract.
The process to find suitable companies to provide the IDs was done through an open and transparent tender process that gave every interested company a fair chance to prove that they could do the job.
The ID project is funded by the MCA to the tune of R22 million.
The MCA is running a US$362 million grant that the United States government gave to Lesotho to modernise its infrastructure and laws.
The MCC is heavily involved in the search for the ID contractor and international procurement standards have been followed since the tender was first published on November 1, 2010.
Bids were opened on January 17.
Only 10 bidders out of the 57 that initially expressed interest are still in the running for the contract.
Yet the ministry of Home Affairs decided to go for a potentially perilous selective bidding when it decided to award a contract for e-passports.
Questions are already being asked about the motive of inviting limited tenders for such a lucrative contract that has implications on national security.
Five companies submitted their bids which were opened on Tuesday despite pleas from other international companies to extend the deadline.
At the time of writing three senior home affairs officials were in Botswana on a “fact finding mission”.
Coincidentally Botswana is the same country that last year awarded Germany’s Giesecke & Devrient (G&D), which is now being touted as the leading bidder in Lesotho, to make e-passports.
Home affairs officials conversant with the government procurement system have warned that a selective tender process could be manipulated by unscrupulous government officials.
In the ID tender the MCA invited consultants to provide the criterion that was to be used to assess the bids.
These guidelines as well as the international procurement standards were used to set the ground rules for the bidders.
The e-passport selective tender did not follow this method even though it is equally important.
They both have implications on the country’s security. An ID is meant for a country to identify its people while a passport is meant for those people to be identified by other countries.
Ideally an efficient ID system makes it easy for a country to process passports.
Under the e-passport tender some five companies were approached by home affairs ministry officials and were given a list of specifications that they were to follow in submitting their proposal.
This was done at the exclusion of hundreds of other international companies that might be equally capable of providing the same services even at cheaper prices.
A selective tender narrows the scope of the search for competent service providers and does not give the government a proper chance to assess the best companies in the business. The government might end up paying more for a service that could have been provided for less.
There is also a possibility that the whole process might be rigged to give a preferred bidder an unfair advantage. In this case some companies only got wind of the selective tender through the grapevine. By that time the five companies that had been approached earlier had already prepared their bids.
There is a danger that the government might give a contract to a dodgy firm simply because it is preferred by some officials. In a selective tender process a company merely has to impress a few officials instead of a whole panel of experts as happens with an open tender.
The MCA seems to have foreseen these potential dangers when it decided to issue an open tender for the ID contract. The MCA handled the procurement process with transparency from beginning to the end by publishing the notice for bids on its website and local newspapers to give bidders equal footing.
In addition, the MCA announced on its website the criteria for selection to give bidders the opportunity to evaluate themselves.
“Prior to announcing the winning bidder or consultant or any list of pre-qualified bidders or shortlisted consultants for this procurement, the MCA Entity will verify the eligibility of such bidder(s),” reads part of the announcement for bidders on the MCA website.
To draw up the guideline and specifications for the ID tender the MCA hired an internationally renowned security expert.
Thereafter companies were invited to express interest.
“MCC will maintain a database (internally, through subscription services, or both) of known GOEs and each winning or pre-qualified bidder and winning or shortlisted consultant subject to this provision will be compared against the database and subject to such further due diligence as MCC may determine necessary under the circumstances.”
This part provides guidance on performing eligibility verification procedures during the evaluation of bids and proposals for MCA Entity program procurements, read the notice.
“A firm declared ineligible by the World Bank for any reasons, including in accordance with the World Bank Group anticorruption policies, shall be ineligible to be awarded an MCC-funded contract during the period of time that the firm is sanctioned by the World Bank.”