By Hugo Odiogor
There has been a groundswell of opposition against the alleged plan of the Federal Ministry of Transport and the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) to manipulate the evaluation process of the bid for the capital dredging of the Calabar Port.
Some of the companies that participated have in the last three months been contesting what they describe as “the deft moves” of the ministry and NPA to award the $200 million (about N30 billion) contract to NPA’s subsidiary, Lagos Channel Management (LCM), against procurement procedures as enshrined in the Public Procurement Act 2007.
vanguard leanrt that”owing to the conflict, the re_dredging of the 86_kilometre Calabar River Channel has run into a stalemate. Almost 15 months after the process was initiated, the preferred bidders are yet to secure a “Certificate of No Objection” from the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP), let alone lift a spade of silt on the channel”.
All entreaties by the ministry and its agency to pacify the aggrieved firms so as to pave the way for LCM to secure the BPP’s go_ahead have been shunned by the contractors. A fence mending meeting in Abuja last week at the instance of the Permanent Secretary of the ministry was followed by a diversionary advertisement by the National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA) in several national dailies.
Part of the grouse of the dredging companies is that LCM, by virtue of its relationship with the arbiters, should not have been part of the bid process. Its involvement, to them, is not only unethical but also tantamount to NPA acting as a judge in a competition it is taking active part in.
The situation, they claim, is further compounded by the refusal of LCM to disclose its ties with NPA as required in the bid procedure and extant BPP regulations on one hand as well as the refusal of NPA and the ministry to declare their interest in LCM on the other. Records show that LCM is owned by a consortium of NPA and a Swiss company, Depasa Marine International, which is managed by Israelis. About 60 per cent of the company’s shares belong to NPA and 40 per cent to Depasa.
Besides its ties with the arbiter, the companies allege that LCM’s bid price is outrageous. It offered the highest bid price among the four companies that scaled the hurdle for commercial evaluation and came a distant fourth overall. Its bid price of 120,331,199.47 euros is about 41 million euros more than that of the company that was first on the list, 30 million euros more than the second placed company and 18 million euros more than that of the company that was third.
Informed sources said “Despite this, NPA abandoned the three companies that offered lower bid prices than LCM when due process requires that the most attractive prices get the contract and when that fails, the next should be considered for the job”, lamented Mr. Frank Alio, a marine expert and operations manager in a dredging company.
Of the six companies that were pre_qualified, Jan De Nul sent in the lowest bid price of 79, 083,454 euros. It was followed by China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC) which quoted 90, 910,731.09 euros. Dredging International with 101, 829, 300.00 euros was third on the list while LCM was fourth with 120, 331,199.47 euros.
Westminster Dredging and
Van Oord both of which survived the technical evaluation but were disqualified after the opening of the bid for failure to submit bond security sent the highest bid prices. Westminster offered to undertake the contract for 132, 395,176.03 euros while Van Oord quoted 139, 574,782.56 euros. Six months after the public tender, NPA re_invited LCM and Van Ord, which was previously disqualified to make it seem as if LCM had made the lower bid.
More over, the favoured company, according to them, was incorporated expressly to manage Lagos channels and ports and if it must go beyond the shores of Lagos, it should change its memorandum and articles of association. In his petition to the Bureau of Public Procurement, the Country Representative and Director of Jan De Nul Limited alleged that “LCM has no vessel to its name and that it uses the tools of the NPA to execute its contracts”.
Following the petition, BPP’s Director_General, Mr Emeka Ezeh, demanded an explanation from the Transport ministry and the NPA. He reminded the minister and NPA that a procurement of such magnitude should must pass through the bureau for a certificate of “No Objection”, which would be issued after grievances raised by the contending parties had been addressed.
The response of the ministry was to call a meeting of the contractors. But rather than address the injustice which the petition raised, the permanent secretary of the minsitry asked the companies not to protest as more contracts were in the offing. The meeting was followed two days after by the NIWA advert.
This is the third controversial contract for the dredging of the seaport. The previous attempts ended in fiasco and cost the nation N13 billion. According to Maritime experts, the 2006 contract into which the Federal Government invested $56 million failed due to the underestimation of the task by the consultant engaged by the ministry and NPA.
The two companies, Jan de Nul and Van Oord, that handled the job were asked to excavate a certain quantity of silt and when they met the quantity contained in their agreement, they left the site. Maritime experts argue that the ministry and NPA erred by making their estimates on the quantity of spoil rather than asking the contractors to achieve a certain level of draft all through the length and breadth of 86_Km Calabar Port channel.
The 1996 dredging done by China Civil Engineering and Construction Company suffered the same fate. Some officials of the ministry and NPA inspected the job on completion and declared it the best ever done in the country. It took a maritime expert to alert the nation that the contractor had done a shoddy job which was frustrating maritime activities along the channel.
The effect of all these has been that most of the functional ports in Nigeria were developed in the Colonial era. The dredging of the second and third generation ports which the Federal Government acquired in the late 60s have been fraught with problems. This includes the lower Niger River, Koko_Benin River, Burutu in Forcados River;and Abononima.