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HRDC queries Mera’s K3.25 billion contract

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Gift Trapence

Barely a week after some Malawians unravelled a syndicate at Malawi Energy Regulatory Authority (Mera) that reportedly ripped off government through procurement of a laboratory testing van, the Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) has written the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) to probe a contract that the regulator awarded to a firm to supply electronic fuel level sensors for tankers and storage tanks.

In a letter dated July 17, 2020, addressed to ACB Director-General, Reyneck Matemba, HRDC alleges that it has received information of suspected corruption where Mera deliberately bypassed procurement procedures to award the contract to Mars International/Mike Appeal JV who were not the lowest evaluated bidder to supply 1,447 and 135 electronic sensors for fuel tankers and depot fuel storage tanks, respectively, at K3,254,492,77.62.

The electronic fuel sensors were meant to check the siphoning of fuel from tanks of trucks and depots and Mera opted for restricted tendering of the materials.

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In the letter, HRDC expresses surprise on why Mera proceeded to award the contract to Mars International in 2018 which was increased by K800 million despite objections from the Public Procurement and Disposal of Assets Authority (PPDAA) that the firm was not the lowest evaluated bidder and lacked proof of a proven record in similar work.

“Our preliminary investigations indicate that Mars International has no proven track record of involvement in similar service. We wonder why Mera had to lie to PPDAA,” reads part of the letter signed by HRDC Chairperson Gift Trapence

The letter further alleges that out of the targeted 1,447 trucks, Mars International only installed sensors on less than 20 trucks.

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HRDC has accused Mera of micromanaging the fuel industry and questioned the regulator’s interest in financing the installing of electronic sensors on private trucks and private fuel depots.

According to the HRDC letter, Mera wrote PPDAA on 19 March, 2018, seeking a no-objection to proceed awarding of the contracts to supply the electronic fuel sensors.

On April 3, 2018, PPDAA responded that they were withholding their objection “in terms of section 44(7) of the PPDA Act”, arguing that the preferred bidder Mars International was not the lowest evaluated bidder and that all the bids failed to meet technical specifications.

Mera then advised the companies to submit fresh bids to include additional specifications.

In its letter, HRDC alleges that only five companies met the technical specifications in the second submission.

However, Mera allegedly went ahead to award the contract to Mars International/Mikel Appel Gato Joint Venture whose second bid had increased by K800 million.

Matemba confirmed having received the letter from HRDC as part of the tips that the bureau has received so far.

Executive Director of Centre for Social Accountability and Transparency Willy Kambwandira damned what he described as embarrassing levels of corruption and abuse of public resources.

“Every day, Malawians are greeted by sad revelations of serious and organised corruption that involved senior government officials where billions of taxpayer’s money ware looted. It is, however, our strong expectation that the new administration will take decisive steps to deal with the vice,” Kambwandira said.

Mera Chief Executive Officer Collins Magalasi said he would not comment on the letter as it is not addressed to his institution. Magalasi, however, said he is willing to provide more information to those who need it.

“We are a public institution and we are accountable. If the ACB starts its investigations, we will fully cooperate,” he said.

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