It’s all over for Phori, Unik  

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. . . as MCC begins processes of implementing lucrative Mpilo Boulevard tender with rival companies

Pascalinah Kabi

THE Maseru City Council (MCC) has begun processes towards the implementation of the M380 million Mpilo Boulevard tender which it awarded to the SCIG-SMCS-Tim Joint Venture.

The processes, which are in line with the May 2021 Court of Appeal judgement confirming the award of the tender to the Chinese joint venture, effectively put paid to any hopes that former minister Chalane Phori had of wresting the lucrative tender for his own company and its Chinese partner, Unik Construction.

MCC public relations officer, ‘Makatleho Mosala, this week told the Lesotho Times that they had begun processes towards implementing the tender with the SCIG-SMCS-Tim Joint Venture. The venture had initially won the tender in 2019 to construct new road links, flyover bridges for vehicles as well as pedestrian bridges in the capital.

It is envisaged that when complete, the new look Mpilo Boulevard will reduce traffic congestion in the city and also reduce carnage on the roads.

However, the tender was plunged into controversy towards end of 2019 when then Local Government and Chieftaincy principal secretary (PS), Khothatso Tšooana and MCC Town Clerk Moeko Maboee told the Public Accounts Committee that Mr Phori and fellow former minister, Mahala Molapo, had ordered them to award the contract to Unik Construction.

Mr Tšooana said Mr Phori, who was then Small Business Development, Cooperatives and Marketing minister, was supported by the then First Lady, ‘Maesaiah Thabane, and Mr Molapo (then Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs minister) when he directed that the lucrative tender be given to Unik.

He said the trio wanted Unik to be given the tender to reward its Chinese owner only identified as a Mr Yang for having assisted former Prime Minister Thomas Thabane while he was in exile.

In a subsequent interview with the Lesotho Times, Mr Phori said he had asked Mr Thabane to intervene in the matter to ensure that his company, which had jointly bid for the Mpilo tender with Unik, was given the contract.

He said went to the State House not as a minister but as a businessman to ask Mr Thabane to intervene in the matter after realising that his company — Tsoapos Brick Works — was allegedly being victimised by the Local Government ministry.

And when Mr Tšooana and Maseru City Council Town Clerk, Moeko Maboee, refused to bow down to the pressure and went ahead to award the tender to the SCIG-SMCS-Tim Joint Venture, Unik Construction successfully petitioned the High Court to order the MCC to redo the tender process.

In his judgement, Judge Sakoane Sakoane, who has since become the chief justice, ruled that the MCC had erred by failing to timeously notify Unik that it had been disqualified from the tender due to its failure to submit tender documents containing the necessary power of attorney signature by its manager.

Justice Sakoane also ruled that the failure to submit the signed power of attorney documents was an innocent omission which could have been rectified at a later stage.

Not satisfied with the verdict, SCIG-SMCS-Tim approached the Court of Appeal which overturned the judgement, saying the failure to submit the signed power of attorney documents was actually a fatal error which had rightly led to the disqualification of the Unik tender bid. The apex court also ruled that although unprocedural, the MCC’s failure to timeously notify Unik of its disqualification would not have changed the outcome of the tender bid.

The Court of Appeal judgement effectively put paid to Mr Phori and Unik’s hopes of wresting the lucrative tender from SCIG-SMCS-Tim.

Three months on from the apex court ruling, the MCC says the wheels are now in motion to ensure SCIG-SMCS-Tim finally begins implementing the Mpilo Boulevard project.

“We are not going to deviate from the court judgement because they have ruled in our favour,” Ms Mosala said in an interview with the Lesotho Times this week.

“We have started processes with the ultimate aim of beginning construction work. We are in the process of reviewing budgetary issues with the funder and we are also working on a programme that will indicate the various phases which will have to be implemented as part of the project. This means there is work in progress,” Ms Mosala said.

She said the cost of the project was likely to increase due to escalating costs since 2019 when it was initially supposed to have been implemented.

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