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‘We won’t be pressured on Marka railway project’

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Martha Chizuma

The decision by the Ministry of Transport and Public Works to readvertise the tender for the Marka-Bangula railway rehabilitation project may have trumped one Chinese contractor’s attempt to be considered for the works on the basis of flawed procurement procedures.

And Minister of Transport and Public Works Jacob Hara insists they will not be pressured to award the contract using procurement mistakes committed earlier in the contract or in other projects.

On September 3, 2021, the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) stopped the ministry from awarding the contract to Mota Engil.

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This followed complaints lodged by fellow bidders over alleged procurement breaches, among other claims.

Apart from Mota Engil, others bidders were China Railway 20 Bureau Corporation, China Civil Engineering Construction, D&M Rail Construction/ Malbro and ABD/Golden Star/Lennings JV.

On December 3, ACB faulted the evaluation process in the contract, saying the awarding of the contract to Mota Engil was without a solid basis.

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It therefore ordered the ministry to reevaluate the bids within 15 days, among other directions – before allowing the ministry to restart the process all together.

But amid activities around ACB’s directive, on December 17, China Railway 20 Bureau Corporation wrote the ministry inquiring the status of the project.

In the letter, it argued that it had not been requested by the ministry to extend its bid validity period, while suggesting at the same time that it could still be considered, citing several cases of bid process breaches, including one on this project, as justifications.

“By the time Notice of Intention to Award was issued in the papers on 27 August 2021, the bid validity period had already expired, and it was never an issue that time.

“It is our belief that this will not be an issue now simply because of some aspects of the outcome of the investigations of the ACB,” reads the letter, addressed to Secretary for Transport.

The Chinese firm also cites three other cases of procurement law violations, one on roads maintenance and two on education, where it says local contractors were subjected to extended bid validity periods.

“We believe that if local contractors were subjected to this process of extending bid validity period over such a long period of time, it should not be the problem for seasoned international contractors,” reads the letter signed by the company’s Director of Engineering Services and Business Development, Vitumbiko Mumba.

The firm further warns that it is “keenly following developments on this project and we will do our best to protect our interests.”

We sought Mumba’s comment on his company’s letter.

“Unfortunately,” he said, “for now we are not giving any comment on the matter. We have genuine reasons for that.”

The letter was copied to Minister of Transport Jacob Hara and ACB Director Martha Chizuma – alongside Colleen Zamba, Head of Presidential Delivery Unit and Edington Chilapondwa, Director General of the PPDA.

Hara, appointed in the position on December 6, told Malawi News on Thursday that the Chinese firm was entitled to its views but the ministry would not award the contract on the basis of procurement mistakes it cited.

“Mistakes were made in this contract and in other contracts as cited. And I don’t want to be part of those mistakes. That is why we have made a decision do the process all over again,” he said. ‘

He said the ministry will expedite the process considering the project has delayed.

Asked whether Mota Engil would be eligible this time, Hara said the Portuguese contractor is free to express interest.

On the other hand, Chizuma told Malawi News that in their investigation of the earlier award, they had found that the ministry’s evaluation committee completely departed from the conditions in the bid document.

ACB also found that Mota Engil stated they would not subcontract 30 percent of the works, which is contrary to the law.

Secondly, the bidding document stated that there will be no price adjustment. But Mota Engil said they may adjust prices, according to ACB.

On the Chinese firm’s letter which she was copied, Chizuma also declined to comment on it.

“That said, we only work as per dictates of the law. We do not get influenced by anyone,” she told Malawi News on Wednesday.

Mota Engil’s bid price was K48 billion while China Railway pegged it at K60 billion; China Civil Engineering Construction at K79 billion; D &M Rail Construction/Malbro JV at K97 billion and ABD/Golden Star/Lennings JV at K95 billion.

Mota Engil’s deal was scuppered after the fellow bidders complained to ACB that the firm’s bid price was not a true reflection of the cost of the project.

They also claimed that the PPDA dubiously awarded a “No Objection” to Mota Engil.

However, PPDA said it had followed all legal procedures in the procurement.

“We can confirm that this procurement request was subjected to all the required vetting protocols to ascertain that the law was followed in identifying the lowest bidder,” PPDA spokesperson Grace Thipa told Malawi News then.

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