Storm as govt extends Bidvest contract

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Lekhetho Ntsukunyane

Bidvest will continue providing government with fleet services until 2020 after its contract was extended by four years this week, the Lesotho Times can reveal.

The South African firm was initially awarded the contract to supply government with vehicles and related services from 1 October 2015 to 31 March 2016.

The deal was extended by two more months after the selection of a new supplier met with several challenges, among them threats of litigation by one of the companies which had been disqualified from the bidding process.

The firm alleged bias in the evaluation of the tender and vowed to take legal action if the government selected any of the three companies which had been shortlisted for the contract before its complaint had been investigated first.

But in another twist to the saga, the government has decided to continue with Bidvest, prompting yet another threat of litigation by one of the three companies which had been shortlisted for the tender.

Although Finance Minister Dr ’Mamphono Khaketla, who allegedly proposed the deal’s extension before cabinet this week, was said to be in a meeting each time the Lesotho Times called for a comment yesterday, impeccable sources confirmed Bidvest had landed the lucrative contract despite never bidding for the tender.

Dr Khaketla, the sources said, managed to convince cabinet to extend the Bidvest contract because the company had promised to rent 50 percent of the fleet from Basotho.

But cabinet was said to have been divided over the decision, “with one side arguing it would seem the government has vested interest in Bidvest after the company’s contract was also controversially extended in April this year”, one of the sources told the Lesotho Times.

The Lesotho Times was also told Dr Khaketla and other senior government officials, held a meeting with King Letsie III yesterday to brief him about the decision to extend the Bidvest deal.

The Lesotho Times could however, not confirm the meeting with His Majesty’s office, while repeated efforts to get a comment from the Ministry of Finance Principal Secretary ’Mapalesa Rapapa on the issue were fruitless as her mobile phone rang unanswered.

The Ministry’s Information Officer, Keneuoe Mojaki, on the other hand, said “such information” about the deal’s extension had not reached her office.

However, the Lesotho Times confirmed last night that one of the companies which had been eyeing the tender (name withheld) yesterday gave government an ultimatum to either reverse the decision to extend the Bidvest deal or face a lawsuit.

The Lesotho Times understands the company wrote a letter to Dr Khaketla insisting the extension “would prove a gross violation of government’s procurement regulations” because Bidvest did not even bid for the contract.

Bidvest replaced Avis Fleet Lesotho—a subsidiary of Seahlolo Transport Logistics (Pty) Ltd—after relations between government and the company soured amid allegations and counter-accusations of fraud. The two had been in partnership since 2007.

Repeated efforts to get a comment from Bidvest were not successful yesterday.

Meanwhile, public transport operators in October 2015 demanded that government should terminate the Bidvest partnership, arguing the contract should not have been awarded to a foreign-owned company. The operators gave the government an ultimatum to either cancel the contract or face legal action.

The following month, the operators held a street march in Maseru to press their point home as they argued the tender had been awarded to Bidvest “at the expense of Basotho businesses”.

Police Minister Monyane Moleleki who received the protestors’ petition on behalf of Dr Khaketla, assured them that the government would be taking their grievances seriously.

“We should listen to you and promise you and the public that we will advise ourselves accordingly and return with answers. Seven days are enough to look into your problems,” Mr Moleleki said.

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