Israeli firm awarded ID tender

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MASERU — The government has awarded a lucrative ID tender to an Israeli firm barely a week after it was cancelled under questionable circumstances, the Lesotho Times can reveal.

Nikuv International Projects Limited which is based in Israel’s Herzelia will now make IDs for Lesotho in a deal said to be worth more than M100 million.

A ceremony to celebrate the deal was held in Maseru on Tuesday, sources said last night.

There is no evidence to show that the project was put to tender.

Instead what is apparent is a trail of events that suggest that the company could have been propped up by senior government officials to win the multimillion maloti project.

Until last week the ID tender was under the Millennium Challenge Account-Lesotho projects.

Under the MCA compact the Lesotho government was supposed to provide half the funds required for the ID project while the other half was supposed to come from the MCA-Lesotho’s US$362 million project which the United States government has set aside for Lesotho’s modernisation and other reforms.

A budget of M108 million had been allocated for the project.

But from the onset the tender was dogged by serious problems.

First it was cancelled after confidential information on the bids was leaked.

Then after another bidding  process the tender looked like it was going to be awarded to Malaysia’s Iris Corporation, a company that had apparently bungled a similar project in that country.

The contract between the MCA and Iris was never signed because Gelmato SA challenged the result, alleging that the Malaysian company had influenced the process by hosting Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili and his delegation before the adjudication had been completed.

After initially dismissing Gemalto’s complaint the MCA eventually gave in to pressure and suspended Iris for violating tender regulations.

Gemalto, which was the second best bidder, was then invited for contract negotiations for the project.

But those negotiations never took off because Iris filed an appeal challenging its exclusion from the project.

Once again the MCA cancelled the tender and invited new bids.

Then last week the MCA made another U-turn by announcing that the project was no longer part of the compact.

The brief statement said the Lesotho government “has decided to remove this requirement (ID project) from the compact”.

That announcement came as a surprise because it meant the Lesotho government had agreed to forgo the funding the MCA was supposed to contribute to the project.

In a surprise move the government this week awarded the tender to Nikuv.

There is likelihood that while the MCA was battling to push the tender the Lesotho government had already started its own parallel process to identify a suitable supplier.

It’s also likely that when the government decided to remove the project from the compact it had already struck a deal with Nikuv.

Equally suspicious is the fact that the government never issued a tender for such a lucrative project of such national importance.

But Deputy Prime Minister Lesao Lehohla, who is also Home Affairs Minister, yesterday said he did not see anything wrong with the way Nikuv got the tender.

Lehohla said five companies “had tendered” and the government chose Nikuv because “it was found to be multi-skilled and would save money”.

“This company will provide us with e-passports as well as IDs while the MCA-Lesotho was focusing only on IDs,” Lehohla said.

“Also, the company will register other important things like deaths, births and others that the companies that were bidding would not do,” he said.

However, Lehohla did not mention other companies that tendered for the project. He also said he had forgotten the amount to be spent on the ID production.

Lehohla said the fact that the government had removed the project from the compact does not mean that it will spend more than it had initially budgeted.

A highly placed source within the Ministry of Finance told the Lesotho Times that after Finance Minister Timothy Thahane announced in parliament in his budget speech in January that M108 million had been allocated for production of IDs and e-passports, MCA-Lesotho started pestering him with questions.

“The MCA-Lesotho was unaware that the government was planning to produce the IDs without its assistance,” the source said.

“The CEO Sophie Mohapi and other MCA-Lesotho officials confronted Thahane and he told them that the government had chosen another company to do the job,” he said.

“They heard for the first time that the government was working on the ID tender separately from them.”

According to the MCA’s tender specifications the company that would have won the  project was supposed to register 650 000 Lesotho citizens and permanent residents within the NIR and assign unique ID numbers whilst 400 000 citizens 16 years and above are issued identity cards within three months from June 1, 2013 to August 30, 2013. Nikuv has also worked in Zimbabwe and Zambia.

It was founded in 1994.

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