18 February 2013

Namibia: Nepotism Probe At Government Stores

THE permanent secretary in the Ministry of Works and Transport, Peter Mwatile, has ordered an internal investigation into allegations of corruption at the Government Stores in Windhoek.

This step by the PS comes seven months after the Anti-Corruption Commission recommended that the ministry carry out an internal investigation.

Mwatile on Friday confirmed to The Namibian that he had appointed an investigating team that would start its work this week.

"I gave them three weeks to complete the investigation," he added.

The Government Stores act as the central purchasing agent for the government and they stock a wide range of consumable and non-consumable items such as office material.

The Tender Bulletin last year carried four damning reports on loopholes in Central Government Stores (CGS) tenders which allow for daily tenders to be called on a quotation basis from selected suppliers, who procure goods from legitimate vendors, in order to sell these to the government.

"Daily tenders are not called from and circulated to all accredited dealers or suppliers. Instead these daily tender quotation requests are not sent out by fax or e-mail on official letterheads but telephoned through to certain suppliers."

A report stated that certain suppliers submit deliberately low prices in order to be competitive, only to request increases once they receive the official order.

Due to the loophole created in the system in the name of 'daily tenders', companies at the receiving end of such tender manipulation are approached for bulk pricing on consumables by "gray vendors" who have been selected by the CGS to quote on daily basis for goods that would normally be provided by the legitimate contract holder.

According to the Bulletin, there are many government stores tenders that from 2008 that have not yet been awarded by the Tender Board, "even though half of the running periods of those tenders have already lapsed".

A petition by the staff was sent to the permanent secretary last year, listing their grievances with regard to allegations of corruption in the procurement process, autocratic leadership and favouritism by top officials .

The PS last week admitted that he never responded to the petition.

"The problem is more than what people are reporting. There are so many problems," Mwatile said.

Mwatile could not comment on the petition, saying "it's difficult to express my opinion, one needs to get the whole picture first, otherwise I'll comment on assumptions".

In the four-page letter that is in possession of The Namibian, the staff said they are not informed about quotations regarding their sections. "We just receive the orders from them. It is obvious they invite their favourite companies for quotations."

The staff wrote that, in the past, the system was decentralised, where all section heads had all functions to work on the system, but it was later changed so that only senior officials have access to the most important functions of the system.

Seniors are accused of manipulating the system to invite their hand-picked companies to tender.

Other allegations are that companies are being deleted from the system in order to give advantage to preferred firms.

There are also allegations of certain companies getting tenders that they did not apply for.

The Namibian is reliably informed that a certain business person is considering legal action against the government stores for giving away a tender that was assigned to him.

One of the senior officials being accused is the deputy director at CGS, retired Lieutenant General Salatiel Ntinda .

He is accused by staff members of changing the job descriptions of section heads and thus giving himself more power in the procurement process.

Ntinda told The Namibian on Friday that he only heard about the petition and was never briefed about it and does not know the content of the petition.

He said he is accountable and responsible for the "effective and efficient running of the entire centralised support service [government stores]. I'm accountable for everything that happens there."

He said there is nothing wrong with him signing orders, adding that there are "checks and balances in the procurement process that avoid tender manipulations".

Asked about the allegations of him manipulating the system and deleting company names, Ntinda denied it, adding that companies that have no contracts with government stores are deleted.

The petitioners also proposed that the PS transfer the four officials alleged of nepotism.

The Namibian is informed of a number of whistleblowers in the ministry who are being victimised because of their outspoken stance on corruption.

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