As long as it’s in the interest of our people, we will do what we have to do to address their needs. The procurement processes were followed and we took due consideration to ensure efficient management of the fleet.
The need for public transport is easily noticeable all around Freetown and at lorry parks catering for provincial travel. The spectacle of passenger queues across Freetown and the struggles of those venturing out or into the cities have warranted government’s investment in revamping the country’s public transport system. But while the arrival of a 100 new buses appears to have given hope and relief to the struggling public, critics of the government have raised several issues with the buses and the process of their procurement.
The Procurement Process and Lessons Learned
An official in the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development (MoFED) says: “The buses were purchased with funds from China whose lending practice ensures that Chinese-owned companies get contracts arising from Chinese financing. You cannot use Chinese money to give contracts to European/Western companies”.
Brima Bangura, the CEO of National Public Procurement Authority (NPPA) explains: ‘Under normal circumstances, such a procurement would have attracted lengthy international competitive bidding, bids would get evaluated and a winner announced. Then a further period of time will be given for any appeals from losing bidders who feel aggrieved. When all these time bound steps would have been covered, the contract will be awarded. However, under the circumstances, we had to give our acquiescence and it is within the law that we did so’.
“Under this circumstance, we followed every step set out in the National Public Procurement framework” says the Minister of Transport and Aviation- Mr. Leonard Balogun Koroma.
The Procurement Officer in the Ministry of Transport and Aviation (MTA), Unisa Dumbuya took me through the processes they had to follow. The contract was drafted and sent to the Law Officers Department of the Attorney General, who vetted it and made recommendations. One recommendation was; given that the conditions of financing dictates a Chinese Owned Company – Poly Group - should be the contractor, then a prior approval from National Public Procurement Authority (NPPA) should be sought for such a Sole Sourcing.
However before giving approval, NPPA asked pertinent questions:
Have the previous buses already paid for? Was value for money achieved, in other words, was a profitable return on the investment achieved? How many of these buses still functional and in road worthy condition? What were the challenges encountered by SLRTC in providing a new make of buses into the transport sector?
With reference to those questions the Authority advised thus:
“We strongly encourage MTA that before proceeding with this purchase, it needs to review and use the lessons learnt from the purchase of the Ashok Leyland buses to guide in making the realistic determination of the viability of the proposed purchase”.
These piercing questions and strong recommendation by the NPPA clearly meant to prevent a recurrence of mistakes made in the previous investment in public transport.
The MTA Procurement Chief Unisa Dumbuya explained that in view of the NPPA’s response, answers were provided by the Sierra Leone Road Transport Corporation (SLRTC) who actually managed the last investment. The answers were given to the satisfaction of the NPPA who gave the go-ahead for the Sole Sourcing of the 100 buses from the Chinese company as per the terms of the financing agreement.
“Another re-drafted contract was then re-sent to the Law Officers accompanied by the Approval of the NPPA for such Sole Sourcing.
“The Law Officers now gave the full go-ahead having satisfied that NPPA had been consulted and their queries had been fully answered” explained Dumbuya. He went further to say that a Certificate of Approval was now sought from MoFED for the award of the contract and this was granted on 8th May 2014.
Efficient Management of the fleet
Due consideration was also taken to ensure that these investment is properly managed. Before approving the contract, MoFED set the following conditions:
SLRTC must sign an on-lending agreement with MoFED for repayment of the amount; that SLRTC set up a Project Steering Committee including 2 members from MTA, 2 from MoFED, 2 from National Commission for Privatization (NCP), 2 from SLRTC Management and 1 from its Board.
The Responsibilities of the Steering Committee are to:
Monitor and supervise the operation of the buses, authorise expenditure relating to operations, maintenance services and personnel cost and ensuring the repayment of the facility; establish an Escrow Account with double signatories of the Accountant General and SLRTC into which all revenue earned from the operations of the 100 buses shall be paid; to take action to enhance the efficiency of the SLRTC management given the not-so-encouraging experience of the recent 40 buses.
Scope of the Contract, Warranty and General Specifications
In addition to the efficient management of the investment, the contract was also watertight to ensure that there is value for money. This is why the scope of the contract covers from manufacture to maintenance and repairs.
“The scope of the contract shall be the manufacture, procurement for supply, delivery, installation, training on operation, use & repairs and maintenance of products”.
The contract states further that “the contractor shall comply strictly with the terms of the special conditions and the technical annexes under the contract”.
On top of these business-minded considerations, a very comprehensive warranty was also provided. “The contractor hereby warrants the Goods against technical defect, faulty system design, inferior material, malfunction, and poor workmanship that can be attributed to the manufacturer’s liability for a period of one year”.
The Contract further ensures that “during the warranty period, the contractor shall at its own expense, solve any quality problem caused by the defect of the manufacturer”.
A review of the general specifications points to a conscientious determination to ensure that the SLRTC does not only depend on the warranty, spares, capacity to repair. Rather, an emphasis was made on the durability of the product. There were over twenty specific requirements including:
· Model and make of engines for the buses to be Cummings or equivalent or better;
· Cummings engines to be Euro ii or Euro iii with a minimum two years warranty to cover engines and one year to cover gear box.
· The Diaphragm plate, fire extinguisher and clutch system are all to be hydraulic/air assisted;
· All chassis to be built using steel with cross members being done under cold construction with reinforcement;
· Multi-laminated spring system with double acting shock absorbers.
The Inspection Team to China
Following the NPPA’s approval, the nod from the Law Officers and the contract negotiations by the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development, an inspection team travelled to China. The Team was led by Hon. Minister of Finance and Economic Development (Dr. Kaifala Marah) and included the Director of Debts (Sahr L. Jusu), the Minister of Transport and Aviation (Leonard Balagun Koroma), the Permanent Secretary of Transport Ministry (Sahr Kpulum) and General Manager of SLRTC (Bockarie Lewis Kamara). The team, of course, also included experts in motor-vehicular industry.
These Officials and Experts travelled to China to ascertain the products were being manufactured as per specification. So clearly, a lot of good thinking, patriotism and effort have been added to this investment of 100 new buses.
The government has explained the cost includes spares, mobile garages, equipment for the Sierra Leone Road Transport Corporation Workshop, a Technical Team and Training. In addition, publication of pictures showing components of the buses being assembled have been released to help dismantle tantrums against government’s commendable public transport initiative.
Unisa Dumbuya, Procurement Officer MTA says: “I am satisfied with the process because we worked within the procurement framework’’.
The Beauty of a Functional Multi-Party Democracy
In spite of this hard work and procurement compliance, those who appeared to have been rattled by the positive impact of this huge investment on the electorate have engaged on a campaign to discredit the venture. This campaign is led by the Democratic Opposition through their registered political parties.
“First they asked; where are the buses? We brought an unprecedented 100. Then they claim the buses are too expensive; that answered, now they make an unfounded claim that the buses are not new but old. When you provide an answer to any of their questions, they would change the question. We have to do our job for which we were elected. We cannot be distracted by people who see nothing good in whatever we do,” says the Minister of Transport and Aviation- Mr. Leonard Balogun Koroma.
However, despite the understandable irritation at the persistent probing, political analysts say the level of public scrutiny on governance and public financial management, government’s openness and the readiness of its officials to respond to public enquiry is a good indication of how far Sierra Leone has come in its democratic development.
At the same time, other observers hold the view that whilst such public scrutiny is important, it is also imperative that it is exercised in a civil and constructive manner without the tilt towards scoring cheap political capital.
© Copyright by Awareness Times
Newspaper in Freetown, Sierra Leone.