KATOSI-LIKE SCANDAL LOCKS UNRA AS ‘CURIOUS’ TZ FIRM MOVES TO WIN 555BN ROAD ASSIGNMENT
Another Katosi Road-like scandal is looming at the Uganda National Roads Authority (UNRA)! The Authority has agreed to award the $150m (roughly Shs555bn) project to a mystery company. The company (best evaluated bidder), which has been forwarded to the African Development Bank for approval, is M/s CMS operating in a joint venture with a little-known Tanzanian firm called Advent Ltd. According to details obtained by this newspaper, there are several discrepancies in the procurement process amid claims that world renowned best public procurement practices and principles being flouted to favor and disfavor certain firms interested in this particular job. The road construction project covers a total of 63kms between Busega on the outskirts of Kampala and Mpigi along the Kampala – Masaka highway. The procurement process has been on for more than 2 years with the wrong thing largely being delayed by foot-dragging officials seeking to create opportunities to solicit and obtain kickbacks. The Public Procurement and Disposal Authority (PPDA) had earlier raised a red flag on the procurement process but their concerns were downplayed via UNRA ED Allen Kagina’s 7th September 2018 letter. “The civil works for the Busega-Mpigi Expressway are financed through a loan from the African Development Bank (AfDB). The procurement has been characterized by an unusual number of whistleblowers and complaints. I brought this to the attention of the honorable minister of Works and Transport through a letter dated 4th July 2018, which was copied to you. Bids for this procurement were received in August 2017 but the process has not been finalized. The main reason for the delay in concluding this procurement has been the need to investigate and address issues raised by the whistle-blowers,” the ED’s communication stated in part. “The bid evaluation report was approved by the UNRA contracts committee and has been submitted to the AfDB for a no objection prior to displaying of the Notice of the Best Evaluated Bidder. In light of the above, we are requesting that your review of the procurement process be stayed until we get a response from the Bank such that your view also takes into account the Bank’s position and guidance on the matter.”
There is a lot of history to all this. How did we get here? The contract was first awarded to a Chinese firm called China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation and China Railway 19th Bureau Group Co Ltd (CCECC &; CRGC). However, some UNRA insiders who curiously had interest in a different company petitioned AfDB and the bid was nullified. The African Development Bank (AfDB) reversed the procurement process citing corruption by some UNRA officials in the award of the contract. In a 17TH May 2018 letter to Kagina, the AfDB country manager Kennedy Mbekeani declined to give UNRA the much needed nod of approval to award the contract to the China firms. In the second evaluation, another Chinese firm Ghazouba Ltd emerged as the best evaluated bidder yet the company is still blacklisted by World Bank for past shoddy works in several areas of its operations in Africa. Since CMS-ADVENT joint venture was tactically placed in the second position on the list submitted by UNRA to the Bank, it would become automatic for CMS Joint venture bid to take the deal since some officials at UNRA procurement directorate knew Ghazouba Ltd would be eliminated technically because of the World Bank issues. And indeed UNRA is waiting for a no objection letter from the ADB to award the contract to CMS-ADVENT JV. But sordid details unearthed by this newspaper from noble-minded UNRA insiders show that CMS –ADVENT bid was marred with technical and financial inadequacies which the relevant UNRA teams (by either commission or omission) overlooked. The concerned noble-minded insiders argue that the CMS-ADVENT LTD JV should have been collapsed in the preliminary stages of the evaluation process.
REFERRED TO IGG;
According to a petition before the IGG and PPDA authored by anti-corruption crusaders within UNRA, CMS has many improper commissions globally and even in Sub-Sahara Africa particularly Mozambique. The company is incorporated in Florida USA. Also the bid security submitted by CMC-ADVENT JV didn’t comply with the provisions of ITB 19.8 of the bid requirements as and as such, the firm should have been eliminated at the preliminary evaluation for non-compliance, according to the UNRA insider findings. ITB 19.8 says thus: “Failure to submit a bid containing all the required information and documentation” is ground enough for the disqualification of the bidder. The petition further notes that all legal documents including powers of attorney submitted by CMS indicated the names as C.M.C DI RAVENNA SOCIETA CO-OPERATIVA but in the bid security and forms, they are simply referred to as CMC DI RAVENA. And a simple search on worldwide web search engine Google yields many companies related to CMS as it was in the Katotsi-Etaw scandal. “This implies that there is an identity question pointing to a situation where the actual entity whose documents have been submitted [could potentially be different from] the one UNRA will contract and the requirement in the bidder sheet was to insert the full legal name of the bidder because of legal implications,” the petition says. Only a few years ago, Uganda faced a similar scenario that ended in criminal prosecution of some people whereby the procurement of civil works for the upgrading of Mukono-Katotsi-Kisoga-Nyegnga Road got into big issues. It was to do with identity theft issue between ETAW Mississipi and ETAW Florida. The pre-Kagina UNRA ended up awarding the contract to a fake ETAW and the government lost more than Shs24bn in the deal.
Some UNRA officials have since then been convicted over the scam. There are questions as to whether the person disclosed in the information sheet submitted for ADVENT LTD (regarding the bidder’s authorization representative) is the same as AJITH SHYMA PRASAD as it appears he Isn’t the same person who signed the document on behalf of ADVENT LTD. The whistle blower says that on further scrutiny, it’s clear there are discrepancies also regarding the manner the powers of attorney was executed. The author further punches holes in the audited financial accounts submitted by ADVENT LTD. The documents notes are not signed by the directors; even where there is a provision for signing, they are too faint to be read. The whistle blower wants the IGG to scrutinize this further for potential desire or attempt to conceal some information to compromise the decision-making process at UNRA. “The audited financial books of accounts should not have been sustained by the evaluation committee,” the team observed. The details obtained by this newspaper further indicate that the much favored Advent Ltd bid didn’t contain a certificate of incorporation for Advent Ltd. Information indicates the certificate of incorporation provided is for Tanzania International Enterprise Ltd and there was no documentary evidence to confirm existence of any corporate relationship between the two. “The specific experience of CMS-ADVENT LTD JV cannot be independently verified on account of difference in names of the lead partner in the joint venture and the registration and legal documents submitted with the bid. Also ADVENT LTD doesn’t demonstrate the general experience required for the works and yet each party must meet the requirements,” it’s further noted. Experts further punch holes in the ADVENT LTD bid saying the personnel listed for the job cannot enable them do the task of executing such a multi-billion superhighway project. “In the technical evaluation criteria, under the key personnel, the paver foreman, quarry manager, environment and social manager didn’t indicate the activities they undertook in their past assignments. It was therefore not possible to adequately asses their experience, adequacy and suitability for execution of the works.” It’s also argued that the key personnel proposed for the asphalt specialist don’t possess the relevant experience for the assignment. “In addition, as evidence of the past specific experience, the bidder included a taking over certificate for Oxbow to Mapholaneng Road with inconsistencies in dates that render the authenticity of the document suspect. The document was signed by the Road Directorate in 2008 and by Roughton International as supervising consultant in 2017. Further inquiries from Roughton International showed that the project actually commenced in 2011 and at the time of bid submission, it had not been completed.” The whistle blower petition further shows the bid has been under evaluation with an expired bid security at some point. The whistle-blowers want the IGG and PPDA to investigate the matter thoroughly and cause due diligence on the above impugned construction firms. (Story adopted from Tuesday Red Pepper with slight modifications).