Local Government Minister Vincent Mwale says he does not condemn people complaining about the cost of the fire tenders because it was also alarming to him as a lay man.

Responding to a question from Nkeyema UPND member of parliament Kapelwa Mbangweta after issuing a ministerial statement on the subject, Mwale said the cost was very alarming especially to people who did not understand the product.

“I wouldn’t call people complaining as being unreasonable. I mean at face value, even for me, a layman who does not understand procurement, when I look at the price, one million [dollars], for each fire tender, I think I get alarmed. For me specifically sitting with the procurement people, asking them questions, ‘why did you go for this bidder who was asking for 42 million [dollars] when there was another bidder who was ready to supply at 24 million [dollars] and so on, what were you looking at?’ so they explained to me the kind of product they were looking for,” Mwale said.

“…I have said that this particular one was ready to supply one machine with a tank that has stainless steel. Others were saying theirs was going to have plastic. This one was saying the clearance ground was going to be high. We have given one fire truck to Chibombo, it has to go all the way to Ipongo where the road is very bad, so you have to look for one that has clearance from the ground to up. Others were providing some with 5,000 capacity but this particular one provided with 7,000 capacity.”

Mwale said that the procured fire tenders were custom-made specifically to respond to the challenges that firemen and women had been facing over the years.

“Mr Speaker, following some concerns from members of the Public that the price of one million dollars per truck is too exorbitant, it should be noted Mr Speaker that this debate is not new. When this procurement was concluded towards the end of 2015, a similar debate ensued and was stirred by opposition FDD president Edith Nawakwi who claimed that the PF had pocketed 30 million dollars out of the award of this 42 million [dollar] contract for the supply of 42 fire trucks,” Mwale said.

He said Grandview gave the best bid.

“Mr Speaker, before I proceed to discuss the issue of pricing of the fire tenders, allow me to give a brief historical background to this matter. On the 4th of May 2012, the late President Michael Chilufya Sata officiated at the commemoration of the International Fire Fighters’ Day in Lusaka and bemoaned, among others, the lack of investment in the fire and rescue services. At this same function, Mr Speaker, President Sata directed my Ministry to decentralise the provision of fire and rescue services to protect the valuable lives of our people and infrastructure in the various parts of the Country. After this Presidential directive, a United Kingdom based company known as Albion Export Services Limited submitted an unsolicited bid to supply 63 fire trucks at the cost of US $54.8 million which they later revised in 2015 to US $66 million. Further, Albion Export Services requested that their company be single-sourced to supply the fire trucks with an upfront payment of hundred percent but to deliver the fire trucks over a period of two years. The Ministry then wrote to the Zambia Public Procurement Authority (ZPPA) requesting authority to direct bid Albion Export Services. On 22nd July 2015, ZPPA responded to our letter and rejected the request to direct bid Albion Export Services but advised the Ministry to use a competitive method to procure the fire trucks,” Mwale said.

“Consequently, in September 2015, my Ministry proceeded to advertise the tender for the supply of the 42 fire trucks. At the close of the tender in October 2015, sixteen (16) bidders responded. After evaluation of the 16 bidders, Grandview International was the best evaluated bidder with a bid sum of US $42 million after meeting the required criteria as stated in the solicitation document…Mr Speaker, soon after Grandview International were notified of the award, four companies, namely Albion Export Services Limited whose bid price was US $49.5 million, Savenda Management Services, DL NAFFCO (Z) Ltd and Albert Ziegler appealed to ZPPA against the decision to award Grandview International. ZPPA heard the appeals within two weeks and rendered its decision thereafter dismissing the appeals for lack of merit. ZPPA also informed the Ministry to proceed with its award to Grandview International. Some companies also made an appeal to the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) against the decision to award the contract to Grandview International. The Anti-Corruption Commission also dismissed the appeal and gave the Ministry clearance to proceed with the procurement process.”

He explained that politicians could not interfere with the role of procurement officers because they were entrusted with the responsibility of cutting good deals on behalf of the people.

“Procurement is not a function of Ministers, it is not a function of Cabinet, this is a function of people who are employed to do that and we have up to the Permanent Secretary as controlling officers and beyond them, you got ZPPA as an authority that deals with procurement. These are the people that procure for government. Even this decision was made by the officers who were doing the procurement. There was a presidential directive for us to deal with the fire department, done in very good faith and that was carried on, implemented by the Ministry,” said Mwale.

Asked why the contract was awarded to a company that did not meet the standard of being registered for at least three years by Mazabuka UPND member of parliament, Mwale said ZPPA approved the transaction and the Anti Corruption Commission also did not have issues with it.

Mwale also said the fire tenders were financed from the National Budget.