Energy Permanent Secretary Brig Gen Emeldah Chola yesterday told News Diggers! that government has decided to cancel the tender process for the supply of fuel, without stating reasons for the move.

And Energy Minister David Mabumba says government deferred the fuel price increment from December and spent US$16 million as a cushion so that Zambians don’t experience high fuel prices during the festive period.

Responding to a press query, Brig Gen Chola encouraged bidders who had been shortlisted to approach the ministry and seek clarifications on the status of the fuel tender, which was at vetting process before its cancellation.

She added that as per bid document, government was not obliged to give reasons for cancelling the fuel tender.

“It’s true we have cancelled the fuel tender process. But we are not obliged to give reasons as per the bid document, however bidders can come to our offices for more information. The Government, through the Ministry of Energy, is still committed to surrendering the procurement responsibility of finished petroleum products to the Private sector. We are still within the targets [to meet the June deadline],” said Chola.

But sources at the Ministry told News Diggers! that State House recommended the cancellation of the fuel tender after a leakage that exposed some bidding companies, linked to the powers that be.

Another source however explained that the leakage was used as an excuse to cancel the process so that named companies that had been left out in the process could be selected through a closed bidding process.

“The leakage has nothing to do with it. The issue is that there is a named company that State House would like to see included on the list of suppliers. So they used that leakage as a scapegoat to now go for closed selective bidding. You know, in fuel and fertiliser, State House is always deeply involved. They practically decide who get’s it at the end of the day. That is why the prices of fuel will continue to go up because there is too much corruption along the process, where everyone wants a cut,” said the source.

The companies that had been selected include Chrismar Earth Moving Equipment, a company whose involvement in fuel supply caused a sharp public outcry. Others were Davon Oil, BB Energy, EL Shaddai Capital, Delta Energy, LBM Investment Limited and Cash Fin Zambia Limited.

Earlier, Minister Mabumba refuted the report that government had cancelled the tender process and challenged News Diggers to practice ethical investigative journalism instead of spreading rumours.

“But has it appeared in the newspaper and signed by PS or it is just a rumour? Who has told you?” Mabumba asked. “You can only [report] based on the information that you have been given. When cancelling a tender, it is procedural that there should be a notification to its cancellation. As minister, I have not read the newspapers because I don’t know why they don’t give me newspapers. That would be the only factual way you could prove that it is true, [that] this particular procurement has been cancelled. But if your sources, wherever they are, wherever they belong to, are giving you that information for now you and I will be speculating. As News Diggers your integrity and morality in the message you convey to the Zambian people is very important. So it is only PS and myself probably who can give you the true facts. Either we call a press briefing and then you guys can be given information so that when you go and report to your masses, it is information that is factual. But based on this rumour mongering, sniffing around my sister, it will never help us as a country.”

When reminded that News Diggers! was a professional investigative outfit, which verified its published reports even if they were not from official statements, Mabumba said; “Investigative journalism is also important based also on other different matters. Maybe for example you want to investigate on how the procurement process is done and report whether there are flaws in the process, that is investigative journalism. But if you want to hear from your sources who want to blackmail government, that is not investigative journalism.”

Asked if, in an event that government cancelled the contract, his ministry would opt for closed bidding, The minister said he was not sure.

“I am not too sure. My PS would be in a better position to answer those questions. Me my job is policy and I have provided guidance and direction in terms of the operational details of the policy, it is PS and the technical team and the ministerial procurement committee,” he said.

Meanwhile, Mabumba revealed that government spent US$16 million in December as a cushion to prevent fuel price hikes, because it was the festive period and a bad time to increase the prices.

“If you google fuel prices, you will notice that we should have increased in December, we were cushioning you guys. $16 million cushioning in December because of the festive season. In December the dollar was around $1 to K10 if you remember very well. The fuel price on the international market had already gone up,” said Mabumba.

“We review in 60 days, we were supposed to review in December, we didn’t do it, I don’t know whether ERB said that. Even now if you look December, January, we were supposed to be reviewing in early February, this is 12th so look at the amount of subsidies, where can we get that money? So I hope you can bear with me but in terms of the long term, we will think around it. It is not something which has no answers, it has got answers. But I think we have to do our in-house discussions before we go to the Zambian people. Even for me I am not happy. When fuel goes up, it is not something that you are happy with as a minister but my job is to find solutions. I will find solutions to the Zambian people. I am a politician but my politics is not just to start shouting, I don’t do those politics. I am a professional politician. My job is to think.”