e-passports tender to go ahead: Lehohla

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MASERU – Deputy Prime Minister Lesao Lehohla says the procurement of electronic passports will go ahead despite concerns that the process was flawed.

Lehohla told the Lesotho Times in an interview last week that the home affairs ministry was going ahead with the process because inviting bids to tender secretly was not unlawful.

“It is only a perception by some people that selective tendering leaves room for corruption but in actual fact it does not,” he said.

“One chooses selective tendering because he knows exactly what he wants and he knows the people who provide it. We have done that exactly and you can’t call that leaving room for corruption.”

Lehohla said the government had head-hunted five companies to provide e-passports for the country.

A selection body would be appointed to select the winners, hence there were no chances of favouritism, Lehohla said.

Home affairs principal secretary Rets’elisitsoe Khetsi last month defended the selective tendering process saying it was within the parameters of the law.

Khetsi said the ministry targeted firms that approached it and displayed their competence in producing secure passports.

He said the ministry did not have time to go around the whole world searching for more companies.

Last month the Lesotho Times reported that the home affairs ministry had engaged in selective tendering – a process in which officials approached certain companies of their choice and invited them to submit their bids.

The ministry’s top officials travelled to Botswana on February 8 to meet representatives of a German company the government had decided to contract, a source close to the matter said.

Lehohla however denied they were going to meet representatives of the company but were on a fact-finding mission.

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

Unlike in an open tender where everybody who qualifies is entitled to submit their bids and expects to be judged according to an expressed capability in the proposal, in selective tendering there is a risk of contracting an under-qualified or unqualified company.

It is easy for an official representing a tendering body to select a less qualified company because it has agreed to give him a certain percentage of monies raised in the tendered job.

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

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

That body, Mokatse said, denies itself a chance to choose the best bidder who meets all technical requirements or who has a plan B if a certain technicality cannot be met easily.

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

“I don’t think a 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.”

Barely three months after this paper put the controversial secret tender on the spotlight the Millennium Challenge Account (MCA), an executive arm of the United States government’s Millennium Challenge Corporation that helps grow economies of least developing countries, cancelled tenders for provision of national IDs.

The MCA told the media last week that its procurement guidelines had not been followed and the policy was undermined hence the decision to scrap the procurement.

The MCA chief executive officer, Sophie Mohapi said failure to follow the rules tainted the whole procurement process and they had to call it off and start afresh.

Mohapi said the MCA discovered that confidential information had been leaked to the public.

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