Disgruntled bidder accuses Matšaba of influencing tender decisions
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By Itumeleng Koleile
Disgruntled bidders vying for court to cancel award of a M50 million number plates printing tender awaits justice amid accusations that preferred bidder was awarded contract on influence of political party affiliations.
Esther Sekoai, managing director of Emmanuel Fleet Services Pty Ltd, and Devandran Naicker of the Uniplate Group (Pty) Ltd, in a Joint venture, argue they must be preferred bidders in the number plates contract scooped by Bikerim Cooperation Pty Ltd.
But Sekoai’s partner Naicker amid accusations represents Uniplate that the South African Competition Tribunal on June 27, 2019 slapped with a M16.2 million penalty for abuse of dominance from 2010-2014 on number plates manufacturing as South Africa’s largest manufacturer and distributor of number plates blanks and embossing machines.
Sekoai and Naicker allude to claims of tender award being politicised in their court papers filed in March 2020 and to date still pending hearing.
The disgruntled bidders claim awaits hearing as the Lesotho commercial court has been in limbo following the deaths of its judges, Justice Teboho Molete and Justice Lisebo Chaka-Makhooane who was hearing their court challenge.
The case remains among other unallocated cases amid Sekoai and Naicker’s demand for justice.
Sekoai and Naicker’s claims have been countered by Bikerim’s shareholder Lekhotla Matšaba who said he does not mix his politics and business while refusing to speak on nuanced details of the tender award.
Bikerim’s managing director Motlatsi Letšela said “it is not perplexing that Uniplate Group is fighting tooth and nail due to the loss of tender as it seems to have a mentality that it can control the work of number plate issuance in all countries” in an affidavit filed before court.
Letšela also noted to the court the Competitions tribunal’s penalty against Uniplate.
On the other side, Ministry of Transport—accused of awarding contract based on political affiliations—Procurement Officer Molise Motsukunyane argues Sekoai and Naicker’s accusations are false and says the duo approached court prematurely without exhausting due process for complaint against issuance of tenders.
Sekoai, in her affidavit, argues the tender should be re-evaluated on account that there were “corrupt, political influences while awarding the tender”.
Naicker corroborated Sekoai’s sentiments and submitted to the court in an affidavit that “the subsequent tenders breached the law in that they have not specified a number plate that is below the requirements of the law of the country just to ensure that the politically aligned or affiliated companies are able to tender.
Naicker argues the politically affiliated companies “do not have: necessary know-how; necessary funding, intellectual property; ability to improve job creation in Lesotho and ability to produce the number plate from Lesotho’s soil”.
Naicker said Uniplate’s samples were handed to the politically affiliated Bikerim as samples of the new number plates design in order for them to try and find other manufacturers in South Africa and China to make samples which is a violation of his intellectual property in the plate design.
A member of the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee who was also a Deputy Minister in the Ministry of transport, Mokherane Tsatsanyane has also said there is an ongoing enquiry by the committee into the award of the tender.
However, Tsatsanyane refused to divulge further details about the enquiry.
Bikerim key shareholder’s tinkering in Politics
MNN Centre for Investigative Journalism has established that Bikerim’s shareholders includes a shady tenderer, Lekhotla Matšaba who has made his money fronting for businesses and using his political influence and ties to sway award of government contracts in his favour.
Matšaba started his career in politics at his home constituency of Stadium Area under the Lesotho Congress for Democracy banner and was among the youths at the forefront of the formation of the Democratic Congress by a faction that was then led by former DC deputy Leader Monyane Moleleki who managed to convince then LCD leader to lead the newly formed DC.
Then again, due to his proximity to Moleleki, Matšaba also jumped ship to join Alliance of Democrats when it was founded.
When reached for comment, Matšaba said his political affiliations have nothing to do with how he conducts his business.
“I do not want to associate my business with politics,” he said when contacted for comment on March 3.
On the purported allegations of his company having used Uniplate’s intellectual property and the irregularity of the awarding of the tender, Matšaba said the ministry of transport could give a clarification on those. – March 19.
In his affidavit, Naicker said the tender was re-tendered on four occasions due to various reasons provided by the relevant department.
“Each time the tender was cancelled, the specifications were changed to make them simpler for the intended winner.
“Bikerim Corporation (Pty) Ltd therefore could not meet the specifications that were specified in the government’s Road Traffic Regulations of 2019 for a secure number plate,” he said.
The first tender was issued on the 5th April 2018, the second was on the 27th June 2018, and the third was on the 23rd December 2018 while the fourth was in August 2019.
In addition, he said the current tender is in breach of the law as the current production of number plates is below the requirements of the law.
He argues that the multiple cancellations and the re-tendering are a vivid indication of the fatal tender process that should be re-evaluated. According to him, one of the specifications in the first tender was that there would be a 10% margin of preference if 30% shares are owned by a local company.
He said there was abrogation of their legitimate expectation to get fair and transparent dealing in that their joint venture was denied margin preference as promised.
He also said the second cancellation that nullified the tender is that the specification was reduced from that required by law. He said the Procurement Unit lowered the standard to the specifications as the preferred tenderers were already known to them.
“I submit that there was a clear scope of the required services which included amongst others the procurement procedures to be used for materials and to come up with a system that shall communicate with traffic vehicle registration system in order to enable information sharing,” he said.
Naicker also alleged that as the first tender stipulated, they met the 10% margin criterion, and however the Procurement Unit shifted the goal posts as they changed the requirement in the final tender.
He said that was a calculated move to cut them out.
“As per the Public Procurement Regulation 2007, the preference margin is mandatory, nonetheless, it was omitted in the last tender,” he said.
The Public Procurement Regulation 2007, section 12 (2) states that the Unit shall grant a 10% preference margin to the bodies which include among others; a business that can demonstrate a shareholding of between 30 and 50 percent by Lesotho nationals, and that a tenderer tendering to supply goods of Lesotho origin, in evaluating the tender proposals.
According to him, the specifications in the last tender were tweaked and not in compliance with the published gazette thus the tender was cancelled and re-issued to enable tender to be rigged to the advantage of undeserving bidders like Bikerim Corporation Pty Ltd.
Naicker argues that “it induces shock as to how a company can get awarded a tender at a higher price than the maximum price set by the law.
“It is clear that the Procurement Unit did not evaluate what was best for the public they are appointed to serve.
“How can the tender panel award a tender to a competitor at higher prices when applicants’ as the world’s leading suppliers and solution providers offering world class solution have tendered at roughly 71% cheaper than their competitor.”
Contacted for comment a former chief accounting officer in the ministry, Mothebathe Hlalele said the tender awarding did not have any indications of irregularity or corruption.
He said it is not true that the standards were lowered to suit the intended winner. He said upon coming into contact with the evaluation report, Uniplate Group was never the preferred bidder for Lot 1 when a re-tendering was done.
Hlalele said the bid winner, Bikerim tendered with a South African company just as all bidders did.
He said this was because the local companies did not have all the required equipment and skills, thus local companies needed to co-join with companies in South Africa.
In its response the procurement officer in the ministry, Motsukunyane argued Naicker and partner Sekoai’s accusations were false and that they had approached the court prematurely.
Motsukunyane said the procurement unit acted in accordance with Public Procurement Regulations 2007, Regulation 56 (1), that provides that “a complainant may lodge a complaint to the Courts of Law in an event that the Appeals Panel failed to make a ruling within the specified time or the complainant is not satisfied with the ruling”.
“The Procurement Policy Advice Division had not yet set up the Appeals Panel to review the complaint as such, the complainant has no recourse to lodge a complaint before the Court of Law,” said Motsukunyane.
Moreover, Motsukunyane said there is no truth in Naicker’s allegation that the ministry had prior engagements with Uniplate Group in consulting on the new and secure number plate.
Motsukunyane also said the Road Traffic Regulations of 2019 were never used in the tender as they had not come into force yet due to the fact that the statute had not been endorsed by parliament but used 2017 regulations.
Bikerim’s managing director Letšela accused Uniplate Group of having a mentality that they can control number plate printing across the southern African region.
He said Uniplate Group has been fined R16m for abuse of its market dominance, which according to him is what it intends to do in fighting to get the tender.
Letšela said it is unbecoming for Uniplate Group to attack Bikerim Corporation by referring to it as undeserving bidders.