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Sierra Leone News: Alleged overpricing of text books contract -MBSSSE explains

There have been several media reports about the ongoing award of contracts for text books in the Ministry of Basic Senior Secondary School Education. The present issue has to do with alleged breaches of rules and procedures involving procurement No. GOSL/MBSSE/TXT-B/ICB/L1-6/2018, for the tender of Lot 3 (Sierra Leone Primary English Pupils Books 1,2,3,4,5 & 6) and Lot 4 (Primary Science for Sierra Leone Pupils Books 3,4,5 & 6). This involves four companies who submitted bids and these are; (A Call To Business) ACTB Print and Publishing, Liverpool Investment, Wilmat Publishers and Eddie K. Enterprises. While the three are local Sierra Leonean companies, Wilmat Publishers is a Ghanaian owned and based Company who had earlier won several bids and made supplies of these books to the Ministry. Director of Procurement at the Ministry of Basic and Senior Secondary School Education (MBSSSE) Mohamed Kallon explained that with President Bio’s pronouncement that his government will provide core text books, the Minister of Finance Jacob Jusu Saffa met with the MBSSSE to discuss the processes of providing the said books. A meeting was held with authors and certain text books were recommended which fit the curriculum. The approved books were text books prepared by DFID for Senior Secondary School (Lesson plans – text books that deal with the curriculum), by WILMAT Publications and Sulaimatu Enterprise books. “The authors said that these are the books that meet the current demand of the schooling system, this was prepared by the Chief Education Officer and senior people in the Ministries as they are copyright books” said Kallon. According to the checklist of submission, Bidders were to tender samples of the books, proprietary rights of the books which are not owned by Bidders, proof of ownership from the publisher for each of the books, evidence of credit line from a reputable Commercial Bank, ISBN for each of the text books from any recognised library amongst others. In the Bid Opening on 28 September, 2018, for Lot3, three Bidders namely, ACTB, WILMAT Publishers and Liverpool Investments submitted bids for the 1,577,280 copies of text books. ACTB submitted a price of USD1 million ($1,313,145.05), WILMAT Publishers has a price of USD7.1 million ($7,131,918.33) and Liverpool Investment presented a bid of USD2.2 million ($2,208,122.00). During the preliminary technical compliant examination, it was discovered that Liverpool Investment did not submit documentary evidence to show proprietary right, proof of ownership and ISBN from a Library as a result they were declared  nonresponsive so they did not make it to the next stage of the bidding process. The committee however discovered even though both ACTB and Liverpool presented books from Evans, proprietary rights were given to ACTB and not Liverpool. So the process was left between ACTB and WILMAT, but as indicated earlier ACTB did not meet the curriculum qualification criteria of presenting a book from those listed above and the Evans edition that was presented was stapled and not stich bind. Kallon said that the committee had to seek professional opinion from Horatio Nelson Williams as he was part of the team that came up with the specification of the required texts. “The Evans books are not approved by the ministry” Kallon stressed. At the stage ACTB were marked as noncompliant so they were disqualified. Kallon went further to explain that when the committee got to the next stage they discovered computational error for the Bid price submitted by WILMAT. A letter dated 11th October, 2018 was written to WILMAT notifying them that during the technical evaluation the committee discovered computational error in their submission, as the figure which was read out at bid opening (USD7.1 million) differs from the corrected bid price now which amount is USD1.2 million ($1,245,627.58). This shows a difference of about $5.9m. The company (Wilmat) in their reply dated 12th October, 2018 accepted the correction made to their bid after the computational check. The corrected bid price for Lot 3 is Le10 billion (Le10,289,431,886.44) after it was converted using the Bank of Sierra Leone exchange rate of the that day which was Le8,260.44 to $1. “The issue that we awarded the contract for USD7million is not true as it was corrected to USD1.2million amounting to Le10billion” A slight computational error was discovered also for ACTB for Lot 3, where they were also sent a letter on 11th October, 2018 and they responded on 19th October, 2018 saying “In view of the above, we express our profound gratitude for your professionalism in making this procurement process transparent and for following the procurement principles and practices…” The committee discovered an arithmetical error of .05 instead of .50 for the bid price of USD1,313,145.50 which was submitted as USD1,313,145.05, “it is a governance issue so even one cent makes a difference, as the law says we have to write them for the necessary correction to take effect” Kallon said. Referencing Section 51 (2b) of the Public Procurement act 2016, it states that “Forfeiture of a bid security may be imposed only in the event of refusal by a bidder to accept a correction of an arithmetical error appearing on the face of the bid…” In the case of Lot 4, three companies WILMAT Publishers, ACTB (USD792,278.56) and Eddie K Enterprises (USD1,1184,920) submitted bids for 1,577,280 copies of science text books. WILMAT and ACTB were found to be responsive in the first stage but Eddie K was non responsive. ACTB was also faulted in the compliance stage as it did not meet the curriculum qualification criteria and the books were stapled and not stich bind. WILMAT at the computational error checking stage, there were discrepancies in the figures submitted from Lot 4 as was the case for Lot 3, they presented USD4.3 million ($4,304,710.78) instead of the corrected price of USD732,672.10. Again this shows a discrepancy of $3,572,038.68. The same process of informing them as per law was done and they accepted the review. At the end of the evaluation process for Lot 3 & 4 ACTB submitted price is USD2.1 million and WILMAT Publishers is USD1.9 million. Kallon alluded to the fact that before the computational error checks WILMAT was indeed at USD11.2 million but at the end of the correction it came to USD1.9million as against the USD2.1million submitted by ACTB. When asked whether ACTB was aware of the corrections that were made to the Bid Price, he replied that each Bidder was privately sent correspondences on the concerns of the committee, and that if anyone had rejected those corrections they would have forfeited their bid securities as per law. A letter addressed to the Ministry on 1st November, 2018 from the Chief Executive Ibrahim Brima Swarray of the National Public Procurement Authority (NPPA) confirmed that the contract followed all the requirements set out in the 2016 Public Procurement Act. Chief Executive Swarray was responding to MBSSSE evaluation report before an approval of award is given. He said that the bid of ACTB was disqualified at a later stage due to noncompliance in the technical aspect of the bid, noting, “the bidder should have been disqualified at an earlier stage due to an apparent conflict of interest as we discovered that the document submitted as the bid security was submitted by a savings and loan financial institution which is owned or affiliated with the bidder” his letter reads. “Otherwise based on the document we confirm that procedural due process was complied with in all respect, therefore you may proceed with the award of various contract as proposed.” Kallon said that even though the committee did not bring up the issue which is in conflict with the law, they would have taken legal action but they decided to submit the report to the relevant authority for appropriate action. “If we do not do these checks, we will get into problems, imagine like the kind of  figure identified, if we do not do these check and we award we would have done injustice to the country by paying an extra USD9.4 million (9,458,329.43) for nothing.” He said that ACTB did not wait for them to come out with their technical evaluation before saying they were robbed. As indicated in the Circular file from NPPA, it is mandatory that verification of documentations are done, “on bid security we write the banks, the line of credit and manufacturers authorisation these are documents that we should check for, in this regard it is now a fundamental requirement as part of the evaluation process, the following documents should be verified, failure by any evaluation committee to conduct the necessary verification, will be viewed as a woeful act and a violation of the code of conduct” he said. WILMAT has been notified by the Ministry that they have been awarded the contract for Lot 3 & 4, but signing will be done when they receive the certificate from Ministry of Finance. On whether they applied to NPPA for sole sourcing, Kallon said yes, and the reason for that is it was barely two weeks before the reopening of schools and that was to ensure they get the books in quickly. As they are copyright books, they were cautious of avoiding litigation as the books required are bounded by copyright laws, “we wrote to NPPA and they said no and asked that we give reasons as to why they should approve.” The Ministry he said requested from the publisher’s documentary evidence that shows that they are the owners of these books inclusive of documents that the authors have relinquished their copyright to them. They compiled everything including information on royalties that are due to the authors. Kallon said they also sent a letter to the Auditor General, Anti-Corruption Commission and Ministry of Finance informing them why they needed sole sourcing, but still the approving body NPPA rejected and asked them to advertise within a one-week period due to the urgency of the procurement, which was done from 21 -28 September, 2018. “We advertised one week, even people were complaining why one week, as if we have planned something, but we have the authority from NPPA” he said. The question however is whether the $11.4m discrepancy is a genuine error or whether as has been suggested, a second opportunity was given to Wilmat to reduce their bid from $11.4m to $1.9m thereby becoming the lowest bidder and overtaking ACTB who initial had the lowest bid price of $2.1m but who after the “discrepancies” had been corrected now became the 2nd lowest bidder?

By Zainab Iyamide Joaque

Monday November 12, 2018.

 

 

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