Monday, November 29, 2021

Confidential tendering information still being leaked despite PPADB reforms

Highly confidential tender information is still being leaked despite an attempt by the Public Procurement and Asset Disposal Board (PPADB) to plug this hole.

Until 2016, one very important requirement in the public tendering process was that the pre-tender estimates calculated by technical officers should not be disclosed even to colleagues within the same department. The fear was that if many people knew this information, chances of it being leaked to bidders were high. However, such effort amounted to nought because the information was still leaked to bidders – at a price.

At the urging of the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime, PPADB killed this black market by lifting the secrecy restrictions. This reform was later adopted by the local government authorities. In a September 2016 savingram, then Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development, Molefi Keaja, notified these authorities: “The pre-tender estimates for works tenders should be disclosed at tendering stage and stated in the invitation to tender document to promote fairness and ensure that all bidders have the same information on a tender at any point in time, given that there have been allegations of pre-tender estimates being leaked to some bidders. The disclosed pre-tender estimates should be prepared by competent professionals from the relevant discipline relevant to the works involved.”

That is what is happening now in local authorities but the system is still leaky. While pre-tender estimates are now publicly disclosed, the items that make it up are not and have come to present a problem similar to that the former used to. By way of example, the cost estimate for building a school will be disclosed but the cost of constituent parts like the classrooms, the kitchen, staff houses, library, toilets, gatehouse and fence will not be disclosed. The estimates have now become a coveted black market commodity that is leaked to bidders in the same way that grand-total pre-tender estimates used to be.

One group of unexpected participants in this market is that of senior officers who supervise professionals who calculate these estimates. A bidder’s chances of winning a bid are greatly enhanced if his/her estimates are within the ballpark of official quotes prepared in-house and kept under wraps. Given that they would be the first suspect in the case of a leak, the officers who prepare these estimates are disinclined to leak this information. From what Sunday Standard learns, some unscrupulous supervisors call up this information from junior under the pretext of discharging supervisory duty, then leak it to bidders.

Contractors themselves are said to be unhappy with the disclosure of the pre-tender estimates because it lowers the bar so low that lazy and clueless bidders (among them tenderpreneurs) get to compete in a tendering process that they don’t have the technical expertise to be part of.

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