A row between the Roads Authority (RA) and the Office of the Director of Public Procurement (ODPP) over the procurement of civil works for the World Bank-funded Karonga-Songwe Road Section on the M1 Corridor has delayed commencement of the project.
The misunderstandings over the contract made the ODPP to suspend the contract in January 2017 creating fears that the delay to begin the project may escalate its costs.
ODPP says it had to investigate the circumstances that led to the granting of the works to Zhejiang Provincial Transportation Engineering Construction Group Co Ltd of China. But RA allegedly saw the ODPP’s move as an attempt to influence the outcome of the bidding process.
And in a clash of systems: that of the recipient country (Malawi) and the donor (World Bank), the financier has backed RA’s decision with a No Objection, infuriating the government agency that feels it has the final authority on public procurement, according to sources close to the matter.
Apart from exposing the challenge of using parallel systems (those of the donor and the recipient country), the row has delayed the rehabilitation of the 46km stretch on one of the country’s most important transport corridors.
Five companies from seven prequalified companies had bid for the road. The project is a loan by Malawi Government from the World Bank.
Other companies that submitted bids were South Africa’s Conduril-Engenharia, another China-based China Geo-Engineering Corporation, a Kuwaiti-registered United Gulf Construction and Portuguese-registered Mota-Engil Africa.
According to documents Weekend Nation has seen on January 4 2017, RA acting chief executive officer Francis Dimu wrote ODPP asking for a No Objection for the $19 921 461.42 project with the Chinese company cited as a pre-qualified company. The bid documents indicate that the Chinese company’s initial $20 088 660 00 price for the project was the lowest of the bids.
Taulo in an e-mailed response explained that his office was being cautious on the deal due to possible future implications if the allegations were found to be true, but he said all parties are now satisfied with the terms of the contracts.
He said the intervention was necessary to avoid the World Bank declaring the contract a mis-procurement.
“As regards the position of ODPP on the matter, Roads Authority was requested to respond to the allegations above to which they did and it was observed the allegations have no merit. As such Roads Authority was cleared of such allegations,” said Taulo.
But on January 30 Taulo wrote back to RA informing them that the office had received anonymous allegations of wrongdoing regarding the procurement.
The letter alleged that the Chinese company was picked using false information and bulldozed by government which felt the contract belonged to it and not the World Bank. Hence government had the final say on the matter.
On January 9, 2017 Taulo wrote RA to announce the suspension of the construction work on the Karonga-Songwe Road.
“I wish to advise that the construction works on Karonga-Songwe Road be temporarily suspended, until a further review is done on this project. We will revert, as soon as this review is completed,” wrote Taulo.
Further correspondence we have seen indicates that ODDP took the allegations seriously and on March 15 2017, Taulo invited the World Bank Country Manager and Secretary to Treasury to a meeting to be held on March 21 2017 at ODPP’s office.
“There are some issues which need to be agreed upon by our institutions.”
World Bank communications officer Zelia Banda in an e-mailed response acknowledged the matter but said ODPP has since cleared RA on the matter.
“Please note that from the information we have, our understanding is that ODPP in performing its oversight duties sought clarification from RA. That clarification was provided and the ODPP has since cleared RA to proceed with the contract,” she said.
RA public relations officer Portia Kajanga in an e-mailed response, played down the row saying the ODPP was only carrying out their duty after they received an allegation of wrongdoing in the procurement process.