Sunday, April 2, 2023

Controversial Innovation Hub tender re-awarded

The Botswana Development Corporation (BDC) Board Tender Committee has bowed to pressure and reviewed the award of the tender for professional consultancy services (Quantity Surveying) in the construction of Botswana Innovation Hub (BIH) headquarters.

The tender, initially awarded to Ogaketse Mathware’s Fitzwilliam Partnership, has been re-awarded to the joint venture of Davis Langdon and Mmile Mhutsiwa & Associates after the latter successfully sued BDC at the High court for giving the project unlawfully to the former. The joint venture had also been recommended for award by the Evaluation Panel but was overturned by BDC Board Tender committee.

A senior partner at Davis Langdon-an AECOM company, Frederick Selolwane, confirmed that they have been awarded the tender and are undertaking the project. “We are busy at work. I am very happy that this matter has finally been concluded and the deserving bidder awarded the contract,” he said.
A letter signed by the Secretary to the new Board Tender Committee Tidimalo Poonyane at the end of June said after court set aside the previous tender award: “The [BDC] Board Tender Committee duly met and resolved to award the tender to the Davis Langdon/Mmile Mhutsiwa Joint Venture Partnership. We accordingly advise that your tender bid has been successful.”

She advised that BDC was awaiting handover from the erstwhile contractor-Fitzwilliam Partnership and invited the joint venture partnership to a meeting at a later date to agree on new parameters (exact scope of work and a contract of services) in light of the work already carried out. The project had been running for more than eight months and various stages have been completed and payments made to Fitzwilliam Partnership in the sum of P 915 565.99 in fees for stage 1 and 2 of the total P12 207 546.40.

The new BDC Board is made up of Blackie Marole (Chairman), Maria Nthebolan, Armando Lionjanga, N.M Masisi, M.D Modise, V. Molatedi, Barney Molosiwa, Solomon Sekwakwa, Serwalo Tumelo and Reginah Vaka.

Lobatse High Court judge Justice Isaac Lesetedi had ruled on March 30, 2012 that BDC had unlawfully awarded the two tenders for the Civil and Structural Engineering and Quantity Surveying components of the BIH project to Pula Consultants and the Fitzwilliam Partnership, respectively.

In the Quantity Survey component, the judge remitted the matter back to BDC board tender committee “for a proper evaluation on the same material that was before (them) on 24 November 2010”.

However the judge ruled that he could not reverse the award to Pula consultants because information before court showed that they had carried out 85 percent of the works. Bergstan, who had also been recommended by the Evaluation Panel, appealed the Civil and Structural Engineering tender award to Pula Consultants, but lost the appeal at the July session of the Court of Appeal. The BDC Board Tender Committee that was found to have illegally awarded the two tenders consisted of Odirile Merafhe as Chairman, N.K Kwele, Maria Nthebolan, R.M Phole, James Kamyuka and B.G Mmualefe.

Recent developments at BIH

Poonyane’s memo also sheds light into recent developments in the BIH project. She wrote: “The Minister of Infrastructure, Science and Technology [Johnny Swartz] has directed that the management of the design and construction of the Innovation Hub be moved from the auspices of the BDC within the next few months to the Innovation Hub Company.”
BIH – whose current address is Maranyane House at Fairgrounds – moved swiftly as Monday (August 20) marked the deadline for bidders interested in Project Management Services for the development of the iconic, central building in the planned Science and Technology Park at Plot 69184, Block 8, Gaborone.

While BIH Chief Executive Alan Boshwaen has in the past dismissed suggestions that the project was removed from BDC portfolio because of irregularities uncovered in the award of some aspects of the tender, sources close to the project are adamant that the embarrassing High Court judgment against BDC contributed to the termination of the contract.

BIH recently flooded the local media with advertisements inviting interested parties to bid for project management services and called for expression of interest from potential tenants of the planned 30 000 square metres state-of-the-art iconic commercial building scheduled to be completed in 2014 near Sir Seretse Khama International Airport. To entice the targeted local and international knowledge business operations, a concessional company tax of 15% is available to qualifying companies who take space in the icon building. Deadline for expression of interest for occupancy is August 31.

Soon after the commencement of the lawsuits in June 2011 court interdicted BDC from implementing any aspect of the contested components of the tender causing major delays, which have escalated the cost of the project beyond initial estimates. The revised cost of the BIH project initially estimated at approximately P350 million currently stands at over P658 807 968.00. The BIH was set up under the Ministry of Infrastructure, Science and Technology.

It is a wholly Botswana government owned, limited guarantee company whose key assignment is to develop and operate a Science and Technology Park with occupancy targeted at technology based companies and knowledge intensive businesses. BDC was the implementing agent for the construction of the high profile and prestigious project initially expected to commence in June 2011. BIH Implementation Office had contracted BDC to manage and coordinate design and construction of infrastructure, which includes master planning/urban design, infrastructure design and construction and design and construction of the icon building and annexes.

The project is subject to government procurement laws, under which BDC Tender Rules and Regulations were required to operate. About 57 hectares of land, neighbouring the Diamond Hub has been secured for the project on lot 69184, Block 8 Gaborone. Arup Botswana has been engaged for the design and supervision of the infrastructure development of the BIH and the design of the site master plan. An American firm SHoP PC Architects, have been appointed to design and manage the BIH Headquarters project. SHoP PC has in turn appointed Nuttall Smith Architects as their local partner for the project. Latest information from BIH shows that the target date for commencement of construction has been revised to first quarter 2013.

Corruption investigation

Fifteen months after graft busters from Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC) launched investigations at BDC on allegations of corruption in the award of the tender for professional components of the BIH project nothing has come to light. Bergstan lodged a complaint with DCEC in April 2011 alleging corruption in the award of the tender for Civil and Structural Engineering consultancy services to Pula consultants by the then BDC board tender committee. Following several meetings between Bergstan Managing Director A. Walker, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning Solomon Sekwakwa and DCEC Director Rose Seretse the latter set her graft busters on the corporation. On May 3, 2011 Seretse told Bergstan that “I have resolved to investigate the allegations relating to corruption and also write to PPADB on the issue of refusal to debrief by BDC”.

Earlier, the then Board Tender Committee Secretary Kagelelo Thebe told Bergstan on March 23, 2011 that their request for debriefing meeting had been rejected claiming that “BDC tender process does not provide for debriefing meetings. Further PPADB guidelines are not binding on BDC. Instead the corporation has its own established Tender Rules and Regulations”. BDC’s refusal to debrief Bergstan, until they were directed to do so by PPADB, further fuelled suspicion of irregularities because the corporation had held a debriefing meeting with the joint venture of Davis Langdon and Mmile Mhutsiwa & Associates on January 25, 2011. In her letter to Bergstan, Seretse also confirmed receipt of a copy of the letter from PPADB instructing BDC to debrief. According to PPADB Standard Operations Manual “debriefing is a mandatory requirement for every Procuring Entity. In the interest of transparency and openness, it is normal practice to debrief each participating bidder of the results of their bid. It demonstrates the PE’s commitment to good practice and transparency and also it shows an appreciation of the efforts that a bidder has gone to, in preparing their bid.” The manual also sets out the basic structure of the debriefing meeting. Attempts to get a comment from DCEC spokesperson Lentswe Motshoganetsi were futile at the time of writing.

Litigation threat

Earlier this year the construction of the new BDC headquarters also came under threat when Chinese contractor Zhengtai Group (Botswana) Pty Ltd threatened to sue the corporation to reverse the award of the tender to a competitor. Sunday Standard is in possession of documents indicating that Zhengtai Group had lost the bid for the multi-million pula project to competitors Steffanutti Stocks Botswana. The threat was contained in a letter with the subject matter The Fairscape Precinct Development ÔÇôConstruction Tender for Main Contract addressed to BDC Managing Director Maria Nthebolan, and copied to BDC Board Chairman Blackie Marole. Zhu Dexiang, representing the Phakalane based Zhengtai Group, said in the letter “we herewith write to formally register our complaint regarding the irregular award of the aforementioned tender, which we have come to learn, has allegedly been awarded to Stefanutti Stocks Botswana.”

Dexiang said it had come to their attention that despite the inclusion of wide ranging and material qualifications, alterations, and deviations in the Steffanutti Stocks tender, contrary to the conditions of tender, Botswana Development Corporation proceeded to award the tender “to an effectively non-responsive and non-compliant bidder”. This, according to Dexiang, contravenes the Instructions/ Notes to Tenderers which were clear with regards to compliance requirements and the need for a fully responsive tender to be submitted. “We believe that the said contract is in contravention of the conditions of Tender, and we therefore give notice of our intent to challenge the award accordingly. Should the award not be reviewed and reversed within fourteen days, we shall proceed and seek relief from the courts,” wrote Dexiang in the letter also copied to company lawyers at Mack Bahuma Attorneys.

The company has since grown cold feet on their threat as the Fairscape Precinct construction has continued unabated.


Read this week's paper