THE State Procurement Board has come under fire from businesspeople and prospective bidders on allegations of corruptly awarding tenders to their “favoured” bidders.
Prospective bidders from Bulawayo and surrounding areas have alleged a lack of transparency in the State Procurement Board, saying it was bringing companies from Harare to take up tenders yet there would be many other bidders meeting specifications.
The problem reportedly emerges when such bidders fail to deliver or provide sub-standard service while also bringing workers from Harare.
They accused the Tender Board of deliberately delaying to respond to losing bidders so that they do not contest the outcome, which they should challenge within 15 days.
They have alleged that the Procurement Board is involved in making sure their "favourite companies from Harare win tenders".
Recently, businesspeople from Bulawayo and Victoria Falls castigated the State Procurement Board at a business forum held at a local church, saying it was discriminatory.
The Minister of Youth Development, Indigenisation and Empowerment, Saviour Kasukuwere and Minister of Regional Integration and International Co-operation, Ms Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga who addressed the meeting concurred the tender system was flawed and there was a need for an overhaul of procurement laws to curb corruption.
The concerned businesspeople urged the Government to review the laws.
"It seems tender laws are meant to empower companies from Harare because they are the ones who get the tenders at the expense of locals," said a concerned businessman, referring to a recent tender at Kango Products, which was reportedly given to a Harare company despite quoting $120 for each item compared to $20 quoted by another local company. The tender was for the supply of tea cans.
A businessman from Victoria Falls said tenders for construction work in the resort town in preparation for next year's tourism conference had been given to bidders from Harare yet there were companies that could provide the service locally.
Responding to questions, Minister Kasukuwere said the Tender Board should adhere to the indigenisation policy when awarding tenders.
"Foreign bidders would do the job, take the money and go leaving the community with nothing. Why are we not supporting our people to grow out of these opportunities," he said.
Minister Misihairabwi-Mushonga said corruption in the procurement and tender system was a burning issue in Cabinet.
She said there was a need to decentralise tender systems to allow local communities to have equal chances.
“The tender issue has been a burning issue for a long time. If there is a place where corruption is rife it is in the Procurement Board, it seems it benefits a certain group of people. One cannot get a vendor number if he or she is not from Harare. I think what is needed is to have a change of the procurement system and devolve the tender system," said Minister Misihairabwi-Mushonga.
The contentious tenders that have sparked outrage include the one given to a Harare company, AC Controls, for the electrification of Mtshabezi Pipeline recently.
Complaints arose when the procurement board failed to communicate with bidders within the stipulated time of 15 days.
A letter written by the State Procurement Board principal officer, Mr Cledwyn Nyanhete, to one of the losing bidders, United Associates and dated 16 April 2012, Tender Number Zinwa/FT/05/11-Electrification of Mtshabezi Pipeline, shows the response was made a month after the set timeframe, a development which the losing bidders said was a deliberate move to make sure they do not contest the tender.
According to documents in Chronicle’s possession, AC Controls quoted $2 931 889 but won the tender ahead of others who had quoted as low as $1 996 550 for a similar service.
The most expensive bidders were Mumrod Engineers and Zesa Enterprises who quoted $3 268 315 and $3 236 326.
The State Procurement Board also reportedly went on to try and force Nust to accept the same company to supply a generator, which the university turned down.
Nust director of information and publicity Mr Felix Moyo said the university had turned down attempts by the State Procurement Board to force it to accept a bidder from Harare.
He said the university had sought an informal tender and referred to the Tender Board after discovering the tender was above $50 000 upon which a company from Harare, AC Controls was brought in to hand it the tender.
"There was pressure for Nust to accept a bidder from Harare and we refused on the basis we wanted a generator for use at night and would have been a problem when it broke down because they would not be able to come and repair it.
"When we contacted the Procurement and Tender Board they said they wanted to deliberate on it and sent a company from Harare. We refused but because of the pressure we were getting we then appealed through our lawyers, which is the position we are in now," said Mr Moyo.
Contacted for comment, State Procurement Board executive chairman Mr Charles Kuwaza acknowledged the board had received complaints regarding delays in the tender process.
He said investigations had shown that accounting officers were not observing the 15-day period response time while some were using consultants.
"There have been numerous appeals to the Administrative Court over the past few years. The board inherited staff who had developed bad habits from the old Tender Board but now have hired new staff who will reduce cases of corruption," said Mr Kuwaza.