MASERU – The Millennium Challenge Account (MCA) has cancelled Lesotho’s national identity card project following revelations that the process had been seriously compromised.
The MCA said it was cancelling the tender due to irregularities in the procurement process.
MCA chief executive officer Sophie Mohapi told a media briefing yesterday the ID procurement process will start afresh following concerns that the selection process had been tainted.
Mohapi said the MCA cancelled the procurement process on Friday after a complainant wrote to the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) in Washington, United States, raising questions about the integrity of the evaluation process.
Mohapi said the complainant, who was not named, was not happy that confidential information about the tender evaluation process had been prematurely brought into the public domain even before the process was completed.
She said advertisements to tender for the provision of the national IDs will be published in the media next week.
The MCC is a United States government programme that funds development projects in least developed countries.
The MCA is the MCC’s accounting partner in Lesotho that has contributed M2.7 billion to reduce poverty in the country.
The evaluation team was assessing if companies that had bid for the supply of the national IDs had enough capital to do the job when the MCA discovered that confidential information had been leaked to the public.
She said the MCA reached a decision to cancel the tender process on Friday last week.
The Lesotho Times is reliably informed that home affairs principal secretary, Rets’elisitsoe Khetsi, was informed of the MCA’s decision on the same day.
The home affairs ministry is the implementing partner in the national IDs project.
In an earlier interview with the Lesotho Times on Tuesday, Khetsi however denied
that the MCA had cancelled the tender process.
He also said he had not received any information relating to the cancellation when he was contacted for comment.
Sources close to the matter say Khetsi and his boss, Deputy Prime Minister Lesao Lehohla, were angry at the turn of events.
The cancellation of the ID tender comes three weeks after the Lesotho Times broke a story about how the government had awarded a multi-million maloti contract to a German firm to supply electronic passports to Lesotho without going through an open tender process.
The decision raised serious questions about the integrity of the process with experts saying the selective tender process was open to manipulation and corruption.
“The ministry is wondering whether the concerns of the MCC could not have been addressed in some other ways other than by taking the drastic step of cancelling the project,” a source said.
Deputy Prime Minister Lesao Lehohla said it is natural to be disappointed when delays crop up in a project.
Lehohla said he believed the MCA would do its utmost to bring the desired results.
“They are following procedures known well to them and I still have hope that they will do their utmost to bring us the desired results,” Lehohla said.
“It is only natural to be disappointed when there are delays in an anticipated project and that does not mean I am angry with the MCA,” he said.
The MCA last year short-listed 10 companies to provide the national IDs.
But a team evaluating the tenders readjusted the points that had been allocated to the companies.
The source said there are indications that the MCC was not happy with the readjustments of the points which suggested that some evaluation members had been influenced to change their initial evaluations in the presence of the MCC consultant.
“The MCC has acted on the advice of its consultant to cancel the process,” said the source.
The source said the consultant, who sat as an observer in the evaluation process, raised concerns about the capacity of the evaluation panel members to weigh up the technical proposals from the 10 shortlisted companies.
“The MCC consultant was the only person who had dealt with the evaluation of ID projects before,” said the source.
The MCA deputy chief executive officer, Sam Mphaka, has however denied that the cancellation had anything to do with the MCC consultant.
Mphaka told the Lesotho Times that there was no such consultant.
“The MCA reached the decision to cancel the evaluation process on its own after realising that the MCC procurement rules had been side-stepped,” Mphaka said.
“We have strict procurement guidelines and once they are not followed the process stops immediately for corrections,” he said.
The MCC headquarters in Washington DC has since appointed a team of investigators to probe circumstances surrounding the violation of the procurement guidelines.
Mohapi and the MCC resident director in Lesotho, Gene McDonald, told the press conference in Maseru yesterday that they will not exercise any powers on the appointed investigators.
“It is the MCC’s inspector general who decides whether to investigate any irregularity,” McDonald said.
She said any person who has been aggrieved in the handling of tenders is free to post his complaints on the MCC hotline website for the inspector general to act.
“It is not known how long the investigations will be and we are not in a position to know because investigations are the prerogative of the inspector general,” Mohapi said.
The cancellation of the tender comes two months before the winning company was expected to start work on the project.
The project was expected to begin between May and August this year, Mohapi said.
The move will likely delay the completion of national ID project by three months, she said.
The budget for the ID project has been set at M22 million.