THE long-drawn out M140 million senate building tender saga this week took a new twist with the local construction company accusing the government of awarding lucrative tenders "on a silver platter" to foreign constructors at the expense of their local counterparts.
The company - Flash Construction - further accuses the government of ignoring a court order instructing that the senate building tender be awarded to it.
Flash Construction was one of the three initially preferred bidders after the tender to construct the senate building was first floated in 2012.
The senate building, earmarked for construction at the Mpilo Hill in Maseru, is expected to cost M140 million which will be utilised in three construction phases.
The senate has so far received M40 million for the first phase of construction which is already behind schedule as it was supposed to have started at the end of last year.
Work which was supposed to finally commence at the end of last year was put on hold after the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offenses (DCEO) received a report from Senate President, 'Mamonaheng Mokitimi, alleging that the tendering process was flawed.
Ms Mokitimi made the allegations after Public Works Principal Secretary, Mothabathe Hlalele awarded the tender to a Chinese company, Qing Jian Group, which was initially disqualified in 2012.
Flash Construction, Yan Jian Construction and NM Khojane Construction were shortlisted as the three preferred bidders before the tender was cancelled and re-tendered.
Flash Construction challenged the decision to re-tender in the High Court in 2014. The High Court subsequently ruled in 2016 that the tendering processes must only proceed with Flash Construction, Yan Jian Group and NM Khojane Construction as the preferred bidders.
Last month, the Prime Minister's Ministries and Departments, Governance, Foreign Relations and Information parliamentary portfolio committee ruled that the tender be awarded to Yan Jian Construction.
The decision has however, not gone down well with Flash Construction who cite a 2014 Public Accounts Committee (PAC) report which said that the Public Works ministry's evaluation team had proposed that the tender be awarded to Flash Construction.
The 2014 PAC report said "it was proposed that the tender be awarded to Flash Construction but was not implemented because it is indicated in (the ministry's evaluation team's) minutes that others felt that the whole process had failed due to the poor writing of documents relating to evaluation criteria".
"The meeting concluded that the project be re-tendered by calling only local contractors," the 2014 PAC report further states.
Yesterday, Flash Construction Director Fabio Arcangeli said they were not happy with the government bias towards foreign companies at the expense of local ones.
Mr Arcangeli further said that his company took exception to what he said was the continuous misrepresentation of the facts in a number of newspapers with regards to the awarding of the senate building tender.
"We are also getting sick and tired of the continuous favouritism of foreign contractors in tender awards over proper legal tender procedures. Yan Jian Construction was never "awarded" the contract for the senate in 2012 as is continuously stated in several newspapers," Mr Arcangeli said.
He said the Chinese company was initially recommended for the project after their tender bid amount was "illegally reduced due to an arithmetic error" of M1 433 241, which made them cheaper than the Flash Construction bid.
He said the procurement regulations clearly stated that a tender amount cannot be changed as was done in the case of Yan Jian Construction.
"Again in 2017, a previously disqualified foreign contractor who was not even working in Lesotho was considered for the project but no consideration was given to legal tenders by local contractors.
Also, the court order instructing that the tender must be awarded to the recommended contractor- Flash Construction - was ignored.
"We also note in recent newspaper articles that Yan Jian is now again being considered for the award of the senate. This again ignores proper and correct procedures, as well as the court order. We find it unacceptable that it now seems to be a norm to give biased treatment to foreign contractors over and above long established local contractors who employ and train local Basotho, pay taxes and invest in the country," Mr Arcangeli said.
He added: "If the proper, correct and unbiased legal tender procedure was followed in 2012, the senate building would have been awarded to us and completed in 2014 at the original tender amount of M85 million and not still going around in circles at the escalated amount of M140million".
Flash Construction's complaints mirror similar complaints last month by other local contractors who wrote to the Public Accounts Committee to protest against what they describe as the "glaring bias" which has seen major government construction tenders being awarded to Chinese companies.