18 May 2017

Namibia: Alweendo Dodges Storage Facility Stink

ECONOMIC planning minister Tom Alweendo is the latest Cabinet minister to distance himself from the controversial fuel storage facility contract, which has already seemingly damaged the standing of three senior government officials.

CRB, a joint venture of China Harbour Construction Company, the Roads Contractor Company and Babyface Civils, was awarded the construction contract for the fuel storage facility at Walvis Bay in 2014.

Since then, the costs of the facility have escalated sharply from N$3,8 billion in 2014 to N$5,5 billion by the end 2016, partly because the contract was denominated in US dollars and not Namibia dollars.

The contract cost escalated despite the existence of a ministerial oversight committee to ensure that the project was implemented properly.

This ministerial committee was chaired by Alweendo, while Prime Minister Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila also served on it.

Some senior government officials have stated that the politicians should also be held accountable for the cost increase, and that they should not be treated as untouchables.

As chair of the committee, Alweendo was supposed to ensure that the state was not unnecesarily financially exposed in the project execution phase, and that a technical committee - chaired by National Planning Commission permanent secretary Leevi Hungamo - acted in the best interests of the state.

"There shouldn't be untouchables where there's wrongdoing. Also note that the committee I chaired didn't take the decisions that are under the jurisdiction of other bodies," Alweendo told The Namibian over the weekend.

According to him, the ministerial committee's function was to urge the relevant entities to take decisions in a timely manner, and to implement the project according to schedule.

"My committee did not take any decision to do with the procurement; that was the responsibility of the Tender Board," Alweendo said.

So far, secretary to Cabinet George Simataa has charged the NPC's Hungamo, and Chris Nghaamwa from the attorney general's office, and issued a final written warning to finance permanent secretary Ericah Shafudah, over their roles in the way the state has suffered financial damage in the ongoing fuel storage facility infrastructure project.

Shafudah was the chairperson of the old Tender Board, which awarded the contract to CRB, while Hungamo chaired the technical committee which chose CRB, and Nghaamwa led the government's negotiating team in talks with the contractor.

The lack of punitive action against any politician involved is striking against the backdrop of President Hage Geingob recently having commented that too many people had been "reckless" in the awarding of the strategic infrastructure contract.

Shafudah, The Namibian further understands, had on more than two occasions failed to chair Tender Board meetings during which big infrastructure contracts were awarded to politically connected businessman Vaino Nghipondoka, who owns Babyface Civils.

Patrick Swartz, the chairperson of the newly created Central Procurement Board, who was Shafudah's deputy, confirmed on Monday that he had chaired the meetings which had awarded CRB the fuel storage facility contract.

"Yes, that's true. I chaired the meeting (awarding of storage tender) in the absence of the chairperson," Swartz said.

He also confirmed chairing the meeting at which the N$1 billion Prime Minister's office project was finalised, which also included a bid from Nghipondoka's company.

Namibia

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