Judgment on ‘abhorrent’ tender process won’t affect delivery – govt

2014-05-30 10:54

A court order that sets aside a R1.9bn school feeding scheme tender will not affect the day to day delivery of the programme, the Department of Education in Mpumalanga has vowed.

This follows a North Gauteng High Court ruling on Monday, in which Judge Nicoline Janse van Nieuwenhuizen described the conduct of the officials involved in the adjudication of the bidding process as abhorrent, shocking and a far cry from the values enshrined in the constitution.

She also made a cost order against the department. “The only manner of expressing my displeasure with the conduct of these officials is to ward a cost order on an attorney and client scale.”

Last year, the provincial department of education invited service providers to bid for contracts to manage, operate warehouses and supply bulk foodstuffs, fresh vegetables and fruit to schools in Mpumalanga.

Seventeen bidders were given the contracts to the tune of R1.9bn.

The court application was brought by seven of the unsuccessful bidders, claiming that several irregularities occurred during the adjudication process.

David Tabane, speaking on behalf of these companies, said: “When we first cited these irregularities the Department of Education said it would adjudicate but then the meeting was quickly moved to the premier’s office. What does the premier have to do with this?”

Their lawyer, Advocate Adrian Vorster, said in court papers the bid evaluation committee had agreed that any person who applied with more than one company would be disqualified as this was in contravention of supply chain management regulations.

But it was revealed that a company owned by Ethel Shongwe was awarded a tender despite being in contravention of this determination. Vorster also said the chairperson of the bid adjudication committee recommended to the head of department that one of Shongwe’s companies be awarded the tender.

“It is perhaps not innocuous that Ms Shongwe is the former deputy chairperson of the Mpumalanga Provincial Tender Board and that she formed the company (Mbentse Ladies) approximately one month before the closing date of bid submission,” argued Vorster.

The court papers stated that because Shongwe’s company had been newly registered, it could not produce credible three-month audited financial statements, and the company had no experience in nutrition and food programmes management.

“The very purpose of these documents is to demonstrate that the bidder has the financial resources to ensure that food of the highest quality is delivered,” states the papers.

Another company also submitted three bids and was in the final stages of deregistration, but was also among the winning bidders. Another had quoted prices that were 400% inflated but still won a tender.

Though the bid adjudication committee sat for three days to decide what companies would be awarded the contract only three pages of minutes were made available.

Another irregularity, Vorster argued, was that ten of the companies that were awarded the tender, were either not registered with the Compensation Commissioner or not in good standing.

The bid document stated unequivocally that if a company did not produce a letter from the commission, it would be disqualified. The department also accepted over 14 applications after the closing date.

Tabane also said some of the companies that were included were from as far away as the Eastern Cape.

“How can the department expect a company from that far to deliver fresh food for the schoolchildren?

“A deeper investigation has to be done. But we met with the department yesterday and they said that they would challenge the judgment. But they won’t win this time,” he added.

The department and the other respondents had failed to file answering affidavits.

When approached for comment, the department’s spokesperson, Jasper Zwane said that the order had been noted.

“The department is still studying the judgment as well as its implications and would thereafter take an informed decision on the way forward. The department remains committed to ensure that all its administration processes are beyond reproach” said Zwane.

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