We aren't nincompoops: Sanral asks DBSA to step in on cancelled tenders

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  • Sanral says it will accelerate the re-evaluation of tenders.
  • It has asked the DBSA to assist with five tenders cancelled earlier this year.
  • The board says that management feedback on projects underway is not sufficient, and it wants its own independent information on projects.

The board of the SA National Roads Agency (Sanral) has appointed the Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA) to assist it in evaluating the five tenders that it cancelled in May. 

The five tenders were priority presidential projects and had a value of R17.4 billion. Infrastructure development is central to government's economic recovery plans.

Board chairperson Themba Mhambi said at a briefing on Thursday that the agency had come under immense pressure from "government at different levels", which had inquired whether Sanral could address the delay caused by the cancellation. The board had also been portrayed as "nincompoops" by the media and people who should be "burned at the stake", Mhambi said. 

READ | Sanral to readvertise almost R18bn in tenders as Mbalula vows he can't be bought

To address the concerns of the delay, the board had set itself the task of advertising, evaluating, and awarding the tenders within four months. The first step was the appointment of the DBSA as an independent advisor. 

In a statement, Sanral said that the DBSA would "act as the infrastructure procurement and delivery management support agency on five strategic projects".

The Sanral board cancelled the five tenders after it became aware that management had failed to follow board policy on procurement. Under this policy, the consulting engineer who designs the tender specifications of a project may not be the same consulting engineer who assists the tender committee in technically evaluating the bids. 

READ | Sanral shocker: After vast underspending, its new rules risk even more delays, problems

It is internationally standard practice that the designing engineer also assists the owner of a project in assessing whether the bids meet technical requirements. Mhambi has said that the board believes that this introduces a conflict of interest and opens the door to corruption. 

Despite an outcry from the industry over what they believe to be an expensive and slow process, Sanral is sticking to its policy. Mhambi said that despite being pilloried for its decision "none of them has proven us wrong in terms of the reasons for our actions".

"The DBSA was not in any way involved in the design, cost estimation and tender documentation stages of the cancelled tenders. This should reassure all interested parties and the public about the integrity and independence of the new procurement processes for the projects," he said. 

While the role of the board was to exercise oversight and was not operational, Mhambi said that it had decided that in the light of "some developments on several Sanral projects", the board wanted its own independent, ongoing information on what was happening on the ground. Information provided by management was not considered sufficient.

"That oversight needs to be independent. We must not rely on our own people to tell us what is happening because then we can be accused of not having exercised the requisite independence," said Mhambi. 

The DBSA would also play this role, he said.

Minister of Transport Fikile Mbalula also attended the briefing and endorsed the proposal from Sanral to involve the DBSA. 

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