By Kefiloe Kajane
The Maseru City Council (MCC) says it has no idea when the Mpilo Boulevard Intersections and Links Project will eventually commence as its hands are tied by a lawsuit challenging the tendering process to implement the project.
The project entails construction of new road links, vehicles’ flyover bridges, underpass, exclusive pedestrian bridges and signalisation. The amount of money involved in the project had always been a closely guarded secret ‘lest it tempted contesting contractors to manipulate their prices’. However, it is said to be in the region of M380million.
The lucrative tender to implement the project was awarded in October last year to SCIG-SMGG-TIM Joint Venture, a consortium in which a Chinese national who was at the time holding a senior government position was alleged to have interests.
However, another group of companies that lost the tender to the Chinese-led joint venture filed an urgent court bid in January this year, for the tender award to be overturned, with their lawyer claiming there was evidence of official interference in the tender process that bordered on corruption.
The commercial court handed down an interim order, pending the final adjudication of the application, interdicting the tender winners from carrying on with construction work on the upgrade.
Approached for an update on the matter, MCC – through its communications head ‘Makatleho Mosala – last week told theReporter she could not divulge any information as their legal officer had been booked off sick and would only be available this week.
However, Mosala yesterday said she could not say for sure when the project will begin because that is contingent upon on the outcome of the court case.
The then principal secretary of the ministry of local government and chieftainship affairs, Khothatso Tšooana, told Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee last year that former small business development, cooperatives and marketing minister Chalane Phori and then agriculture and food security minister Mahala Molapo had ordered him and MCC to award the tender to their preferred bidder.
Tšooana and then MCC Town Clerk Moeko Maboee told the PAC Phori had attempted to arm-twist them into awarding the tender to UNIK Construction Company.
Tšooana told the PAC that Phori was supported by the former First Lady and Molapo when he directed that the tender be awarded to UNIK.
Phori was later quoted in the media claiming that he wanted the tender awarded to UNIK because he had submitted a joint bid with the Chinese-owned company for the project. He said he was also a businessman and he had jointly bid for the Mpilo tender with UNIK.
“We also tendered for the Mpilo job but we were not awarded the contract despite the fact that we were number one. What annoys me here is the element of corruption that I have picked; that element of corruption made me to go to State House,” he told a local publication.
The MCC tender panel which allegedly awarded the tender was said to have been cobbled up about a week prior, replacing an old one that was dissolved by former local government minister Litšoane Litšoane in August.
The whole saga came one month after this publication ran a couple stories showing that the ruckus between Litšoane and MCC – which saw both parties intermittently trading harsh words – was actually motivated by a desire to have full control of the lucrative Mpilo project.
In fact, it was shrouded in so much controversy that some councillors claimed an MCC engineer had been forced to resign amid allegations of corruption committed by unnamed high-ranking people in the ministry.
Tendering for the project was opened in April and closed in mid-May 2019. Two months after the tendering process was done, Litšoane dissolved the MCC tender board and directed the Town Clerk to assemble a tender panel in line with the Public Procurement Regulations (as amended in 2018).
This, Litšoane said he was doing because the councillors were working in cahoots with the tender board to award big tenders without taking into consideration the provisions of the Local Government Act. He also charged that councillors did not have the technical expertise to make informed decisions on tenders, as their mandate was only to shepherd the work of technocrats.
The Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences responded by launching an investigation into the awarding of the tender which was at the centre of discordant conflicts between MCC and its mother ministry.
Meanwhile, this publication sought the views of ordinary people on the delay of the project which was envisaged to reduce traffic congestion in the city and reduce carnage on the roads.
Truck driver Sebusi Makama had this to say: “This shows that the government has never had the interests of the people at heart. The Mpilo project road would help reduce congestion. Resolving the matter quickly would show that the government takes corruption seriously.
“We know about the allegations of corruptions around that tender. Why is the government allowing greedy tenderpreneurs to delay a project that is aimed helping Basotho? There are many businessmen who can do a sterling job on that project without any hassles. Those ones who are fighting over the tender should be left there with their court order so the project can continue.”
Cab driver Mojapela Letsosa said: “I do not know anything about that matter, but it is surprising that the government allows such things to happen. We are still expected to pay taxes at the traffic department, yet the same roads are not being fixed.
“Our government is willing to sacrifice so many people in favour of businessmen who already have a lot of money but are just sore losers. I think MCC should find a solution soon, to make sure that this is over and done with because it is not fair for the entire country to be held hostage by people whose only interest is money.”
Another motorist, ‘Makabelo Molemo, said: “I am aware of the Mpilo Boulevard tender saga and I do not see it being resolved anytime soon because powerful people who put money ahead of everything else want a slice of the cake.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if this is just a ploy to delay the project so that certain people can regain power and award the tender to someone of their choice. In the meantime, we continue to suffer the stress and pain of traffic jams.
“Government needs to engage neutral and ethical people to handle the tendering processes; it is sad that tender panels in the country are made up of people with vested interests.”