Education ministry in books tender storm

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’Marafaele Mohloboli

THE Directorate of Corruption and Economic Offences (DCEO) says it is investigating allegations of corruption in a textbooks tender reportedly worth millions of maloti.

The lucrative tender was won by Oxford Publishers. But five losing bidders have taken umbrage with the manner in which the tender was adjudicated by the Ministry of Education. They now accuse ministry officials of serious impropriety.

The losing bidders have since lodged graft allegations with the DCEO, which confirmed this week it was now probing the deal.

The losing bidders allege that Oxford won the tender because of “tender manipulation” by ministry officials with vested interests including one official whom they claimed was a former employee of Oxford Publishers.

Seven companies initially bid for the tender but six made it to the evaluation stage, conducted during the first week of October this year.

The six are Oxford, Pearson, Macmillan Lesotho, Anwary, Mazenod and Morija. The tender was for the publication of six textbooks on Numeracy; Sesotho; Science and Technology; Personal, Spiritual and Social; Creativity and Entrepreneurial; Linguistics, Literacy and English.

“We were told that that they would evaluate bids from all six publishers but when we got to Thaba-Tseka for the exercise, the evaluation was done only on three publishers and the other three were excluded without any explanation whatsoever,” a representative of one of the losing bidders said on condition of anonymity.

Another representative of a losing bidder said his company had received a brief letter informing them that their bid had been unsuccessful but without any elaboration.

“The letter did not have details as to how we lost to Oxford even for the Sesotho books which we believe we are most qualified to provide. The letter just stated that Oxford had won the bid for all the six books.

“We believe there was serious impropriety in the adjudication of the tender and we are not letting it lying down. We want a probe of the minister and his officials,” charged the representative.

“It is only through the DCEO that this matter can be put to rest. Everyone who was in the evaluation panel must be questioned for transparency.”

Another losing tenderer, Sello Terai of Mazenod, equally expressed his firm’s dissatisfaction with the outcome of the tender.

“We have made our misgivings known to relevant authorities and we expect them to deal with the matter properly. We fully reserve our rights,” he said.

Education Minister Mokhele Moletsane acknowledged receipt of complaints from the losing companies but dismissed their allegations as sour grapes.  He said it was impossible to satisfy everyone in a tender process as every bidder believed they were entitled to win.

He said the tender was still within the 14 day cooling period during which tenderers are allowed to raise objections and he appreciated their right to raise their concerns.

But the minister also challenged the losing bidders to come out clean and highlight what he had done wrong, if they were of the view that he had interfered with the tender process, instead of accusing him in forked tongues.

“I welcome their accusations and concerns because they have a legal right to complain and raise objections. But I would also really appreciate it if they could come out very clear and pin-point my name in connection with the awarding of the tender, if they think I improperly influenced the process, and stop beating about the bush,” the minister said.

He said he was in possession of letters from Macmillan and Pearson publishers raising complaints against the tendering process.

“I have with me a letter from Phoofolo (law) Chambers,  in which I am notified that they have since lodged a complaint with the DCEO. My stance is very clear.  They have done as the law requires. Let them go to DCEO and the police if they have their doubts. This is something that I expect them to do whenever corruption is suspected. We will then explain the adjudication process and clear the air”

The letter from Phoofolo Chambers alleged that there was a high ranking official in the ministry “who is very much influential in the award of this tender who is a former employee of the successful tenderer (Oxford), and a case for apparent corruption and/or abuse of public office has since been lodged with the DCEO.

“It would be prudent if the contract is suspended as this dynamic also casts a huge shadow of doubt on the transparency, or otherwise, of the awarding of the contract,” the letter demands.

The minister said the companies must state clearly about whether or not they were also accusing him of complicity in the alleged corruption.

“I want to hear them saying clearly that the minister had a hand in this awarding of the tender.  That’s a better proposition than spreading false rumours,” said the minister.

“The DCEO should do its work but the truth is that I have nothing to do with tenders. I can’t be dragged into this corruption issue,” Mr Moletsane said.

DCEO Public Relations Officer, ’Matlhokomelo Senoko, confirmed that the corruption busting body was investigating the matter but refused to provide details, saying this would jeopardise the probe.

“We are investigating the tender but we are not in a position to divulge the details on the status of the case as we think that might jeopardize our investigations,” Ms Senoko said.

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