The Ministry of Infrastructure, Science and Technology (MIST) was this week forced to beat a hasty retreat withdrawing advertisement inviting bids for the multimillion pula design and construction supervision of the upgrading of Selebi Phikwe Technical College.
The withdrawal comes in the same week that four professional associations in the construction industry registered a complaint over the tender with the permanent secretary in the ministry. The ministry, through the Department of Building and Engineering Services (DBES) triggered controversy by reverting to consortium procurement system in the recently floated tender MIST/MTC/DBES/SER/79/2012-2013 contrary to a Presidential directive against consortia tendering.
The four associations are Association of Consulting Engineers Botswana (ACEB), Botswana Institute of Engineers (BIE), Architects Association of Botswana (AAB) and Institute of Botswana Quantity Surveyors (IBQS).
Through a letter to the Permanent Secretary, dated November 14, the associations urge MIST to revert back to the accepted practice of engaging services per discipline. The associations want to stop the tender and have it restructured such that companies can individually tender for themselves. Sources within the construction sector even threatened approaching court if their plea is not heeded.
“Preferences are offered to citizen service providers who undertake to enter into consortium, details of which appear in the Terms of Reference,” reads part of government gazette floating the tender. Bidders were given up to Monday to have filed their queries.
MIST spokesperson Christopher Nyanga said Thursday that after Sunday Standard enquiry on the Selebi Phikwe Technical College tender they discovered a mistake contained in the government gazette call-for-tenders. He denied that DBES deliberately wanted to revert to consortium bidding, adding that his ministry is aware of the Presidential Directive cancelling consortium bidding. “It (the wording in the call for tender advertisement) was an oversight on the part of my ministry. We have already kickstarted processes to withdraw the advert to make the necessary corrections,” said Nyanga.
Tendering in consortium is deemed to breed cartels within the industry and is also said to be unfair because there are only less that 10 mechanical engineering companies in Botswana whereas there are more than thirty architects who want to tender. Therefore in its current form the tender has limited the number of potential bidders to only 10 because other architects will not have complete teams.
“As you may recall this matter together with the issue of domestic sub-contracting were identified as some of the root causes of corruption, formation of cartels and bid rigging that afflicted the department over the past few years,” read the letter.
The controversial tender calls for Consortium Consultancy Services for the Design and Construction Supervision of the proposed Upgrading of Selebi Phikwe Technical College. The associations also expressed surprise at the turn of events because the matter had been discussed at length at “Construction Pitsos“ and during the budget speech of 2010/2011 and 2011/12 and subsequently at Sectoral High Level Consultative Council (SHLCC).
“As the private sector we are concerned that we are again repeating mistakes that have occurred before and eroding progress that has been achieved so far at great cost and sacrifice,” they said. However, Nyanga insists that his ministry will never deliberately act in a manner to reverse the gains they have made over the years in an effort to empower the construction industry as the key sector of the economy.