Court sets aside Mpumalanga school food tender
A three-year tender for a school nutrition programme in Mpumalanga has been set aside and referred back to the education department because of alleged tender rigging.
Judge Nicoline van Nieuwenhuizen granted an order in the high court in Pretoria to seven unsuccessful bidders, who took the 17 successful bidders to court claiming material irregularities during the adjudication of the bids.
She gave the head of the Mpumalanga education department a month to reconsider and adjudicate the bids afresh, but ordered that the status quo in respect of food already being delivered to schools be maintained until then. Van Nieuwenhuizen granted a punitive cost order against the Mpumalanga premier, the education MEC and the departmental head.
“Having regard to the extent and nature of the irregularities ... I am of the view that the conduct of the officials involved in the adjudication of the bid process is abhorrent, shocking and a far cry from the constitutional values enshrined in the Constitution,” she said.
Some of the successful bidders were initially disqualified for including prices that were 400% higher than the average tender amount.
The applicants previously obtained a court order forcing Mpumalanga education authorities to supply them with the record of proceedings but the successful bidders’ bids were not included. Although the bid adjudication committee met for three days, they were provided with minutes of only three pages. The applicants contended the documents either did not exist or were deliberately withheld to conceal impropriety in the tender process.
Not in good standing
A number of the successful bidders were either not registered with the compensation commissioner or not in good standing when they submitted their bids. Several bids were considered that were not submitted before the closing date and bidders who tendered more than once were not disqualified in terms of a committee resolution.
The applicants’ investigations revealed that one of the successful bidders, Mbetse Ladies, had been set up by Ethel Ruth Shongwe, a former deputy chairperson of the Mpumalanga provincial tender board, only a month before the closing date for bid submissions.
The company had no experience in nutrition and food programmes management and could not submit three years’ audited financial statements.
Another successful bidder, Mathatha and Given Trading, had been deregistered and submitted three bids as part of a joint venture, although the bid was eventually awarded to an individual entity.
Although the bid document prescribed that the bids be evaluated individually, the scores of the members in respect of each entity were exactly the same. The only inference that could be drawn from this was that the bids were not adjudicated by the members individually but according to the dictates of another.
There were numerous discrepancies between the supporting documents attached to the founding affidavit and the documents that comprised the record, notwithstanding the fact that the documents were generated by the same institutions, dealt with the same subject matter and were generated for the same purpose, Van Nieuwenhuizen said.
She agreed with argument by the applicants that the deviations from fair process were “symptoms of corruption or malfeasance in the process” and that the unfair process betokened a deliberately skewed process. – Sapa