The elephant straddles corrupted waters: It's our time to eat!

There is a famous Indian fable about a group of blind sojourners who come across an elephant.

The first man, feeling the broad and sturdy side, bawls, “The elephant is very like a wall”. The second feeling the tusk cries, “What do we have here, round, smooth and sharp. It’s like a spear”. The third man takes the squirming trunk and speaks boldly, “it is like a snake”.

And so it went on with the fourth man reaching for the knee and opining, “This wondrous beast is like a tree”. The fifth man chances touching the ear and can’t deny the resemblance of this marvel to a fan. Seizing the swinging tail, the sixth man feels the group has been conned and presented a rope.

Coming across the different parts of the elephant, each blind man creates his own version of reality from that limited experience. And these men disputed loud and long, each partly right, but all in the wrong.

Perspective changes everything.

The P900 million 100 KM Masama Direct Project has left the citizenry railing on in utter ignorance. The media and its contributors sit poles apart. All are too close, but cannot get the whole picture.

Since the story first broke as Cabinet wars, the nation has been feeling an elephant – but cannot see the whole picture.

The goal of the government’s procurement process is to support its programmes by obtaining value for money through acquisition of works, supplies and services. Government’s budget is diverse and huge. Billions are spent. Public sector projects constitute a high risk for fraudulent procurement - an ideal opportunity for corruption.

Contracts can be awarded without fair competition allowing companies with political connections to triumph over rivals. Corruption adds as much as 50% to a project’s costs. But corruption in public procurement isn’t just about money. It also reduces the quality of work or services.

In the absence of Freedom of Information Act amongst other safeguards, manipulation of tendering procedures is hard to detect. Because the public is kept in the dark, it celebrates the headlines, oblivious to Peter Magosi’s mission to conceal corruption.

Lately, chief o’ lies and henchman Magosi, has taken to the role of intimidator hiding behind investigating Project Management Office (PMO) officers for living beyond their means. What a farcical lie! This is a purge of officers non-inclined to the antics of Water Utilities Corporation (WUC) and the cabal hell bent on looting.

Section 45 of the The Public Procurement and Asset Disposal Board (PPADB) Act prohibits procuring entities from inviting bids when funds are inadequate or not available, or when the parent Ministry has not issued a written confirmation that the required funds shall be made available. Violating such a basic step brings WUC compliance with PPADB into question. It is said that WUC’s non-compliance dates back to 2011.

Following Grace Muzila’s letter of April 2018 berating the errant WUC, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Land Management, Water  and Sanitation Services (MLMWS) called WUC officials to bury the unbudgeted for project. Surprisingly, after the PS was moved to Botswana Public Service College (BPSC) in May 2018, the project resurfaced despite there being no attempt to rectify violation of Section 36 of the Public Finance Management Act.

Collusion between procuring officers and bidders often happens, such as providing insider information, tailoring specifications and shortening tender periods. Such procurement fraud carries glaring red flags of misappropriation.

The NSC 2.2 Contract No.1 floated in 2018 as a follow up to an initial tender of May 2016. Government’s decision to unbundle the 250km Palapye – Mmamashia NSC 2.2 gave birth to four components. NSC 2.2 Contract No.1 requires the construction of a 1200mm, 82.9km long steel transfer pipeline and crucially over a period of 18 months. The procuring entity was the PMO team in the MLMWS.

NSC 2.2 Contract 1 forms part of a continuation of NSC 2.1 from Letsibogo to Palapye. Pipe diameter requirements have since been revised to 1400mm. In a clear tailoring of specifications, WUC floated a tender in March 2018, for a diameter of 1000mm with the contractor pledging to complete the work in 12 months.

Any deviation may indicate that politicians or public officials are manipulating the process in order to steer contracts to allies. In a press conference held mid-August, Minister Kefentse Mzwinila lied incessantly saying that the NSC 2.2 project would take four years. 

Public procurement is supposed to be an open, competitive process that follows a clear structure. That is the way to get value for public money and to encourage economic development. The design coming from PMO pegs the pipeline at 82.9kms. The tender floated by WUC was for a pipe “approximately 100km”.  

Even the least mathematically inclined will question the implications of the cost impact of the extra 17.1km. If 100km equals to P750 million, then 82.9km should equal less.

It’s easier to spot corruption in a tender when you know how the process should unfold. Procuring entities engage consultants who in the conduct of environmental impact assessment consult and seek consent of individuals to be directly affected by developments.

For obtaining the land in order to build a pipeline a specific form of land expropriation is applied, namely the Right of Servitude.  The Right of Servitude can be realised on the basis of established public interest. In order to build the pipeline it was necessary to obtain land by purchasing it from the land owners, a specific form of expropriation namely the right of servitude.

The initial Right of Servitude sought by the PMO dating back to MMEWR was 70 metres. This was further increased by 50 metres to accommodate the NSC III – the Chobe Zambezi Project. It is on record that WUC misled the Departmental Environmental Affairs by claiming to be in the NSC II servitude.

When one red flag is associated with another, this increases the probability that the behaviour reflects corrupt manipulations, rather than just incompetence. WUC’s project budget was P750 million. The winning contractor when pledging 1000mm Ductile Iron Pipe with a financial proposal of P781 million.

The estimate of P750 million was escalated to P900 million primarily because WUC factored in inflation and escalations due to the passage of time. However, the parameters used for escalations are issues such as currency fluctuations and predicting such is almost impossible. These are included as part of the contingency and calculated monthly.

The primary reason for any escalation in cost should be the Consumer Price Index which is forecast by Statistics Botswana. That’s what happens when you bypass PPADB.

There are worrying lapses that occurred during this attempted heist by WUC. There was wanton misuse of power, undue influence in the needs assessment and questionable award processes in the absence of funds. The greatest risk has to be on the decision by WUC, the procuring Ministry and the Executive to make acceleration of this procurement possible, something exceptionally unjustified and not urgent. 

Bad politics seems to have contributed to the deterioration of integrity and good governance. Simbi Phiri of Khato Civils acknowledges calls from MPs urging him to sue the Government. There are some corrupt ministers, MPs and senior government officials who saw 100KM Masama Direct Project as a goldmine.

If this government fails to address the issue of integrity to overcome corruption, it will find the voter deciding on its behalf. Heads must roll!

As citizens take a step back, indulge more in the water fiasco, the elephant becomes visible. Corruption is the elephant is the room – and the picture gets clearer by the day, even as WUC with its poor governance record is trying very hard to move projects worth P5.5 billion under their wings.  Well, one day we see where it all began. It is our time to eat!

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