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Conclusion of N4.5bn Onitsha River port concession mired in controversy

…Anambra govt protests procedure
By Godwin Oritse

GOVERNMENT’S bid to concession the Onitsha River port may have been mired in controversy as parties challenge the integrity and fairness of the bidding process.

Onitsha River port

Investigations by Vanguard Maritime Report also indicated that the supervising ministries in the exercise may have forced a brake on the conclusion of the process.

Consequently, though the implementing government agency, the National Inland Waterways Authority, NIWA, said it has concluded the exercise since last month, it has not been able to communicate to the winner of the bid officially till date.

Some of the parties involved in the concession exercise are accusing NIWA of flouting court orders and disregarding ministerial directives on cancellation of the entire process.

A source in the Federal Ministry of Transportation told Vanguard Maritime Report that a department of the ministry had recommended cancellation of the report of the evaluation of the technical proposals submitted by bidders in December last year, due to some irregularities in the exercise.

The supervising ministry accused the Bid Evaluation Team constituted by NIWA of failing to adhere to the evaluation criteria and inexplicable discrepancies in the application of the scoring matrix established by the Evaluation Committee.

Also, the ministry queried the involvement of the Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission (ICRC) in the bid evaluation process which, according to our source, had led to a “serious conflict of interest”.
Furthermore, the ministry directed that a new evaluation team be constituted to re-evaluate the technical proposals and, in addition, advised that the technical evaluation report should not be circulated among the bidding companies and other stakeholders.

Vanguard Maritime Report was also reliably informed thatthe Federal Ministry of Finance which has oversight responsibility on the process had directed that a meeting of all stakeholders should be convened to address complaints from various quarters.

Vanguard Maritime Report further gathered that NIWA went ahead to conclude the remaining stages of the bidding process and announced the selection of two firms as prospective concessionaires for the river port, but without disclosing the names.

According to NIWA’s Acting Managing Director, Barrister Danladi Ibrahim: “The concession has been completed. We opened the financial bid on the 3rd of July and we have picked the most competitive concessionaires and any moment from now they will take over the cargo handling operations of Onitsha port.”

On the name of the selected concessionaires, he said, “We cannot reveal it now because the award letter has not been issued but two companies were pre-qualified for the financial bid and it will be concessioned for 25 years.”

The Onitsha Port was built by ex-President Shehu Shagari, in 1983 and rehabilitated with over N4.6 billion by ex-President Goodluck Jonathan in 2012, but it has remained unutilised since then.

The current concession initiative started with a ministerial approval to advertise for expression of interest (EoI) from prospective investors, made public by the Honourable Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, on Tuesday, 25th July 2017 at the Second NIWA International Conference and Exhibition (ICE) held in Lagos.

The Port concession process which was scheduled for conclusion by the end of March this year has been bedeviled by series of irregularities leading to numerous complaints from bidders and pending litigations at the Federal High Court, Awka.

Some parties in the process are also alleging that the concession process has been compromised with one of the bidders being favoured.

It was learnt that a total of 9 companies expressed interest in the concession, but only four were shortlisted to bid.

The companies that expressed interest are Le.Ejinkeonye Nigeria Limited, based in Anambra State, International Trading and Contracting Limited, based in Lagos, and Port Harcourt based Marlin Maritime Consortium and Logistics Resources Ltd.

Others are Universal Elysium Consortium in Abuja, Inland Container Nigeria Limited based in Lagos, Oranto Petroleum also in Abuja.

The four shortlisted bidders according to documents made available to Vanguard Maritime Report, include Inland Containers Terminals Limited, currently running the Kaduna Inland Container Depot, Elysium Consortium, International Trading Company, ITC, and Oranto Petroluem owned by one Prince Author Eze.

But the promoters of ITC felt aggrieved after it was disqualified from the bidding process and went to the Federal High Court in Awka, Anambra state to protest its disqualification.

A source at ITC told Vanguard Maritime Report that it was disqualified because it requested for an amendment of some document it needed to use for the bid process adding that it duly made the request.

According to the source, ITC met about 98 percent of the bid requirement of the both commercial and
financial bid process adding that if due process was followed, it would have won the bid.
Speaking on the development, Mr. George Ugwu, the Transaction Adviser to the Onitsha River Port concessioning project, said that he could not comment on a project whose process is still ongoing.

“The transaction is still ongoing, it will be unfair if I make any comment on an ongoing process”, he stated

In a petition date 15th May, 2018, to Minister of Transportation, the promoters of ITC noted that NIWA intentions with regards to the project have remained unclear, conflicting and confusing.
Part of the petition reads: “We refer to our letter of appeal dated 30th April 2018, in connection with the above matter and write to thank you for your timely intervention and restoration of confidence in the ongoing River Port concession process.

“Sir, we must let you know that we were greatly disturbed by the unclear circumstances surrounding a certain mail purportedly sent to us by NIWA that was returned undelivered and NIWA’s continued refusal to release the returned mail or disclose its content to us, despite three attempts by the consortium to retrieve the mail in question from the agency’s office in Lokoja- thereby fuelling our suspicion of possible attempts somewhere to create ground for disqualification of the ITC Consortium from the bid for the concession of the Onitsha River Port.

“Our fears, worries and suspicions arose from the fact that the transaction governing the document the Request for Proposal, RFP, states amongst other things in Sub-Clause 30.1 that ‘during the examination, evaluation, and comparison of proposals, NIWA may at its discretion, ask the bidders for clarification of the of their proposals’ and goes on to assert on page 34 that ‘In the event that one of the items (or document submitted) is incomplete or improperly submitted, NIWA/FMoT at its sole discretion may ask the bidders to resubmit the item, failure to resubmit the item at the request of NIWA/FMoT may be ground for disqualification”

“It was this fear of NIWA’s unclear intentions-especially in the face of conflicting information and instructions emanating from the Lokoja office of the Agency willingness to release the said mail-that prompted the ITC Consortium to approach the Federal High Court, Awka on 3RD of May, 2018 where we sought, amongst other things, some relief to ensure that the concession process is govern by the RFP rules”.
Besides the protest by the ITC group, the Anambra State Government also frowned at the way and manner of the amendment of the bid proposal.

In the letter with reference number ANS/SSG/M.627/04, dated 30th, April 2018 and addressed to the Minister of Transportation, the State government said that it was in partnership with ITC group for the purpose of bidding for the port.

Part of the letter reads: “In August last year, the State-through the Anambra State Investment Promotion and Protection Agency, ANSIPPA in conjunction with International Trading and Contracting, ITC, Limited and Afrinvest West Africa Limited under the International Trading and Contracting Limited Consortium participated in the request for Expression of Interest, EoI in the concession of the Onitsha River Port.

“The consortium’s expression of Interest was endorsed personally by his Excellency, the Governor of Anambra State Chief Willie Obiano and submitted in association with ANSIPPA and other Consortium parties.

“Based strictly on merit, the consortium was pre-qualified for the next stage concession process and requested to submit its Technical and Financial proposals on the 22nd of December, 2017

“Unfortunately, after the submission of the proposal, the Consortium discovered an error in the bid Bond issued by one of the supporting banks.

“The error was rectified as soon as it was reported to the bank’s top management and the amended copy was re-submitted by the Consortium to the Concessioning Authority on the 31st of January, 2018 with a request for withdrawal and return of the first bid bond submitted earlier in December last year.

“Recently, the Consortium was constrained to send to the NIWA for the return of the first bid bond, with an appeal for consideration of the re-submitted copy, since no feedback has been received from the Concessioning Authority”.

A memo from the Federal Ministry of Finance to the Acting Managing Director of NIWA, Mr. Danladi Ibrahim noted that the bidding process had failed to conform with the principles and guidelines of the Procurement Act of 2007.

The memo dated 27th of April 2018 and signed by Barrister Tor Tsavsar, Director Technical services department of the Federal Ministry of Transport, stated: “You may further recall that the Department only received the opening and Evaluation Report of the Technical bids on the 28th of March, 2018.

“The Report has been reviewed by the Evaluation Ministry and found to have failed to conform with the principles and guidelines of the Procurement Act, 2007”.

The report of the Technical bid prepared and submitted by the Transaction Adviser, Green Stratos, noted that every other bidder was given a pass mark except ITC who the report said to have failed in the submission of its bid bond in a separate envelope.

In its reaction the management of the Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission, ICRC, said that ITC submitted a Bid Bond bearing a different name that did not have any link with the ITC Consortium and could not be linked with their bid legally.

The Bid Bond’s validity according to the Director General of the Commission, Engr Chidi Izuwah, was also less than what was required in the RFP.

He said: “This company has written numerous letters to the HMT (Honourable Minister of Transportation), NIWA, ICRC etc appealing for intervention to enable them to participate further in the process.

“The ITC is one of the successful companies that was issued an RFP, they responded and submitted their technical and financial proposals.

“The company submitted a Bid Bond bearing a different name that did not have any link with the ITC Consortium and could not be linked with their bid legally.

“The Bid Bond’s validity was also less than what was required in the RFP. This infraction is clearly captured in different parts of the RFP as grounds for disqualification”.


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