Namibia: Govt's N$280m Tractor Tender Questioned

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The government's plan to buy 327 tractors valued at around N$280 million is tainted by alleged irregularities.

This amid concerns from the African Development Bank (AfDB) which instructed the tenders to be re-evaluated.

This transaction is part of the N$3 billion that Namibia borrowed from the AfDB in March 2018.

Namibia will use part of that loan to buy tractors to help farmers become more efficient with regards to food production.

The tractor tender started taking shape on 28 October 2020 last year when the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Land Reform advertised five tenders, which were open to bidders from across the world.

In addition to the tractors, the government also wants to provide subsidised inputs (seed and fertiliser) to grain and fodder-producing farmers.

The tenders closed on 27 November 2020.

Minister of agriculture Calle Schlettwein last week confirmed to The Namibian that these bids were evaluated from 15 to 23 December 2020.

A government-appointed body, the ad hoc bid evaluation committee, was set up to award the tenders.

That committee made its recommendations on who should be awarded the tenders in January this year.

The AfDB, however, provided input and comments on those recommendations and requested that the tenders be re-evaluated, Schlettwein said.

The committee re-evaluated the bids in March 2021 and prepared reports, which were submitted to the AfDB on 26 and 29 March 2021 for review.

"To that end, the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Land Reform is still awaiting the response from the bank. As such, the status of the five bids are still a work in progress, and the bids are yet to be awarded," Schlettwein said.

There are concerns that the process is already tainted by allegations that a company, known for gobbling up most tenders at the agriculture ministry, has been lobbying and applying pressure to win the tenders.

Sources familiar with this matter say some officials at the ministry questioned why the company continues to be favoured for agricultural tenders.

Other sources are alleging that middlemen are planning to profit from this deal at the expense of taxpayers who will carry the burden of repaying the AfDB loan in the long run.

Well-connected business people have over the years pounced on legitimate initiatives, like the tractor tender, to enrich themselves and inflate tender prices.

Sources say senior figures in the ministry have privately raised concerns that the agriculture and lands ministry has been a hotbed of corrupt deals.

Yesterday, Schlettwein said he has cancelled similar deals at the ministry due to suspicions of irregularities.

QUESTIONS

Schlettwein could not explain in detail the exact concerns raised by the continental bank.

"This bid evaluation process is still ongoing, and therefore, as much as the ministry subscribes to the cardinal principle of transparency and openness, it is not at liberty to divulge recommendations of either the ad hoc bid evaluation committee or that of the bank until the process is finalised," he told The Namibian last week.

He said his ministry is not aware of any intense push to award contracts for the five bids "to certain individuals who have for years received tenders from the ministry".

"Therefore, the ministry cannot deny nor confirm that there could be such suspicion from some quarters of the Namibian society ... " he said.

Schlettwein said if the suspicions are true, "the ministry would highly welcome those in the know to furnish it with detailed information and evidence of the facts giving rise to such suspicions to enable the ministry to act accordingly".

The minister said it is "incomprehensible that an individual could clandestinely be favoured for the award of the bids".

TRACTOR AND TRAILER

Schlettwein said the plan is to mechanise agriculture in the country, which has up to now been labour intensive.

According to him, mechanisation would enhance food security at both household and national level.

Schlettwein said machinery and equipment will be distributed to the various agricultural development centres in all regions based on their needs.

He said the ministry will also provide services, such as subsidised ploughing, ripping, planting, fertiliser application, weeding, the spraying of pests, harvesting and threshing services.

Schlettwein said the ministry will subsidise grass harvesting, such as mowing, raking and baling services.

"The ministry will also provide subsidised ploughing and planting services to small-scale communal and resettled horticultural farmers up to a maximum of three hectares throughout the year based on demand."

EAGLE EYE

Popular Democratic Movement (PDM) leader McHenry Venaani has for years advocated farmers' welfare in parliament.

"We shall look at these tenders with an eagle eye," he said yesterday.

"We want officials to refrain from insider trading," Venaani said, adding that insider trading is a serious problem.

"They need these resources to augment and mechanise the agricultural sector. So I am pleading with the government through the president that these tenders are critical, that the procurement process is above board," he said.

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