By Amin Kef Sesay
In one of our recent publications it was made abundantly clear that the Electoral Commission for Sierra Leone (ECSL) and specifically the Director of Procurement of that institution, Sheku Loleh was not lucidly convincing in trying to make clarifications over certain lapses that were detected during a stage that would ultimately lead to the award of a contract to one out of the five bidders. Bringing up this issue at this time is very timely and important because already the ECSL has sent a letter of notification disclosing that one of the bidders, Laxton Group would likely be awarded the contract and that is to happen soon based on the content of the letter.
It could be recalled that when it was mentioned that one of the bidders, Laxton Group, submitted a bid form that was not signed, the ECSL Director of Procurement trivialized it in his response by stating that it was a mere mistake on the part of his deputy, when opening the bid documents, reporting that Laxton’s was not among. Only for him to again state that after contacting the National Public Procurement Authority (NPPA) it was discovered that the bid form was there intact.
However, that lapse on the part of Laxton, submitting an unsigned bid form was duly noted as part of the unofficial minutes on the 21st March, 2022 at the bid opening for Lot 1 of NEC/DMVR/ICB/G/2022/0063 for Laxton Group, a fact which can be authoritatively corroborated.
Furthermore, Sheku Loley, was also not explicit in his explanation that the reason why the Laxton bid price, which at the time of , submission, recorded on the 21st March, 2022 was $1,954,000.00 USD changed so quickly $2,247,100.00 USD which represents a price increase of $293,100.00 USD was as a result of not factoring the Goods and Services Tax (GST) initially, but that Laxton later did so, seems to be a very lame, defensive and unconvincing justification on the part of the Director of Procurement. That the other bidders were not given the privilege to do so seemingly looks like some form of manipulation seemed to have allegedly taken place.
It could be also argued that if the tender requirement was to include all prices inclusive of applicable duties and taxes,which it is believed was the case for Lot 1 NEC/DMVR/ICB/G/2022?0063 then such should have been part of all the bidders original bids at the time of submission including Laxton.
According to a Procurement expert, of over twenty years experience and proven track record, not signing a bid form typically indicates that a bidder does not agree with one or more than one of the terms and conditions attributed to said tender and eventual contract.
He furthered that an international bidding process of this nature would not make room for even allowing the Laxton Group to make price adjustments as it is expected that all the interested parties must have known what to do before even venturing to get onboard.
Statutorily, all public procurement must fall under the purview of the National Public Procurement Authority (NPPA). That institution was established to perform oversight functions and advice Government on public procurement management. As far the mission of the NPPA is concerned it is to regulate and monitor public procurement and therefore it is very much important for that institution to take note of the detected anomalies that have fraught the process that is eventually leading to the award of the aforementioned contract.
The contract in question is :LOT 1 of the 2022 Biometric Voter Identification/Update Project which could be identified by procurement number: NEC/DMVR/ICB/G/2022/0063.
As far as this medium is concerned the NPPA is a key institution that has made significant gains over the years. It is expected that the institution will continue to ensure that best practices are adhered to in order to derive value for money.
The NPPA must take note that the oddest part of what has transpired so far related to the tender is that one bidder was given the opportunity to clarify multiple parts of their bid submissions while the other companies were not given the same opportunity.
In the spirit of true competition and ethical principles such should not be allowed to happen.
What is expected at this material time is for the ECSL to do is a re-tender of NEC/DMVR/ICB/G/2022/0063) due to the various inconsistencies mentioned.
Another recommendation could be that if a re-tender is not required and called for then perhaps ECSL should select the most responsive, most compliant, most capable company of successfully completing the project.
The project under the spotlight will involve millions of Leones in its implementation which is why it is of vital importance to have a competent company to emerge as the winner in order to derive value for money.
The NPPA has an integral part to play in order for fairness to come into play otherwise anything short of that would smack of foul playing and send the wrong signals internationally.