e-passports: pitfalls of selective tendering

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MASERU – Selective tendering, like the one the Lesotho government has just been engaged in to search for firms which will produce electronic passports, has dangers.

Tender experts say selective tendering leaves room for corruption as it allows officials for the body inviting the tenders to negotiate prices with each company they approach.

Experts say this kind of tendering tempts officials in that it opens doors to negotiate inflated prices so that they can share the spoils with the company that agrees to play ball.

Unlike in an open tender where everybody who qualifies is entitled to submit their bids and can expect to be judged according to the specifications of the tender, in selective tendering there is a risk of contracting a less qualified service provider or one who is not qualified at all.

It is quite easy for an official representing a tendering body to select a less qualified company because it has agreed to pay a bribe

Thabang Mokatse, a chartered accountant who has experience in forensic investigations, told the Lesotho Times that most companies and governments discourage selective tendering.

Mokatse said a body that opts for selective tendering is running the risk of choosing a bidder who will disappoint because the selection is only based on whether the bidder is known to have been doing similar jobs, not on whether he is able to meet all technical requirements stated in the tender specifications.

That body, Mokatse said, would have denied itself a chance to choose the best bidder who meets all technical requirements or who has a plan B if certain technicalities arise.

“I personally don’t encourage selective tendering although it may have some advantages,” Mokatse said.

“I don’t think a tender process in which a body that is inviting tenders has a chance to negotiate a price with companies that are invited to tender is good,” he said.

“Compared to other kinds of tender processes, this one is risky.”

Mokatse said the advantages of selective tendering are that one selects companies whose track record is known to him and therefore has a certain degree of conviction that a chosen firm will do what is expected of it.

The second advantage, he said, is that one is able to negotiate prices with each company they approach and, as a result, might actually save money.

He said other tendering processes like closed tender and open tender have their own disadvantages too.

In closed tendering, whereby only individuals or companies in a targeted area are eligible to bid, a body inviting tenders is confining itself to a certain area or group of people.

“Even if there are better skilled people outside that confinement they will not be allowed to tender,” Mokatse said.

As regards the open tendering, he said one is running the risk of relying on expertise written on the tender proposal because many people include expertise they do not have.

“There is a risk of relying on misleading CVs or company profiles,” he said.

Deputy Commissioner of Police, John Selete, said a passport that is easily forged because its security features are weak can facilitate the entry of international criminals who can be a threat to national security.

Selete said terrorists can forge Lesotho passports and use them to travel all over the world.

“Such countries might end up getting angry at Lesotho and I am sure nobody wants that in this country,” Selete said.

“Terrorists can enter and live in this country freely while planning or committing crimes and Lesotho will be seen internationally as a haven of terrorists, which is most unwanted,” he said.

NOTE: Mokatse and Selete were not aware of the controversial selective tender that the government had engaged in at the time of their interviews.

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