Govt single-sourced AVIC…to construct the $4.3m Toll Plaza which broke down months later

A News Diggers! investigation has revealed that the Road Development Agency (RDA) single-sourced AVIC International to construct three tollgates at an initial cost of about US$12.9 million, among them the controversial Michael Sata Toll Plaza and the Kafulafuta Toll Plaza which altogether cost about US$8.5 million.

The investigation has further revealed that despite spending around US$1.2 million just on the toll building facilities, installation of “state of the art” tolling systems, power supply, signal lighting for traffic and tolling as well as surveillance systems, the toll collection mechanism at Michael Sata Toll Plaza started breaking down shortly after it was commissioned, forcing toll officers to issue handwritten receipts to motorists.

And the Road Development Agency has confirmed that the Chinese company was single-sourced to construct the tolling facilities, while the National Road Fund Agency (NRFA) has also confirmed that the Michael Sata Toll Plaza broke down twice in a space of three months, barely five months after President Edgar Lungu officially commissioned it.

According to a News Diggers! investigation, AVIC international approached the RDA on December 20, 2017 with a direct bid, offering to construct the Levy Mwanawasa Toll Plaza, which government later changed name to Michael Sata, at US$4.3 million (VAT inclusive), the Kafulafuta Toll Plaza at US$4.2 million, the Choma Toll Plaza at about US$3.5 million and to install a tolling system at Garneton Toll Plaza between Kitwe and Chingola at over US$800,000, a facility which was actually under a different contract. This brought the bid offer from AVIC International to US$12,988,8851.

According to correspondence seen by News Diggers!, during the evaluation of the single-sourced bid in April 2017, the RDA Procurement Committee noted that the bid price was higher than usual, citing the rates used in the previous tender for the Mumbwa, Katuba and Chongwe Toll Plazas.

In response, AVIC stated that the bid was higher because the construction sites were “too far from Lusaka” and the contract was then approved at US$12,918,677 after an agreed reduction in the design fee for the Toll Plazas.

However, in July 2017, RDA wrote to AVIC international, indicating that the approved tender would be awarded at a revised contract bid sum of US$12,051,027.

In December 2018, while explaining the exorbitant cost of the Toll Plaza, Ronald Chitotela, who was then Minister of Infrastructure Development, had told Parliament that the US$4.3 million spent on the Michael Sata Toll Plaza was high because it was constructed across four lanes.

“Mr Speaker, the Government has recently constructed other major toll plazas such as Katuba and Shimabala. The cost of these two toll plazas were US$2.8 million on a single carriageway and US$2.2 million respectively. The cost difference between the two toll plazas and the Michael Chilufya Sata Toll Plaza is because of the difference in size. As I have earlier alluded to, the Michael Chilufya Sata Toll Plaza spans across the two carriageways between Ndola and Kitwe while Katuba and Shimabala are on single carriageways,” explained Chitotela then.

But News Diggers can reveal that, in comparison, the difference between the Michael Sata Toll Plaza which was constructed on a dual carriageway and the Kafulafuta Toll Plaza which is being contracted on single carriageway is only about US$100, 000.

According to the Bill of Quantities seen by News Diggers, the civil engineering works at the Michael Sata dual carriageway Toll Plaza cost US$1,849,490 while the same works on the single carriageway at Kafulafuta cost US$1,820,411 – leaving a difference of about US$29,000.

The power supply and lighting on the Sata Toll Plaza actually cost less at US$270,537 compared to US$298,537 being spent on the soon-to-be commissioned Kafulafuta Toll Plaza, while the tolling system cost the same at US$161,700.

The design fee for the two facilities and the signal light system for traffic and tolling also cost the same at US$95,739 and US$58,672 respectively.

YES, WE SINGLE SOURCED AVIC – RDA

By Sipilisiwe Ncube and Ulande Nkomeshya

The Road Development Agency has confirmed that AVIC International was single-sourced to construct toll plazas, but the Zambia Public Procurement Authority (ZPPA) declined to explain whether the institution indeed gave RDA a green light to single source, and under what circumstances.

Responding to a press query, RDA Corporate Affairs director Masuzyo Ndhlovu explained that the Agency single-sourced AVIC International to construct the Michael Sata, Kafulafuta and Choma toll plazas because there was urgent need for the government to start collecting toll revenue from motorists, among other reasons.

“Yes, AVIC International Project Engineering Company was single sourced to construct the Levy Mwanawasa Toll Plaza which was later re-named as the ‘Michael Sata Toll Plaza’, the Kafulafuta Toll Plaza and the Choma Toll Plaza at a total value of US$12.05 million in 2017. Since they were single-sourced, there were no other bidders invited to participate. However, the bid from AVIC International Project Engineering Company was duly evaluated in line with the provisions in the Public Procurement Act of 2008. The RDA procurement committee approved the tender in 2017 which was also approved by the Zambia Public Procurement Authority (ZPPA),” Ndhlovu stated.

“The RDA in 2014, through a limited bidding tender process, invited bids for the construction of toll plazas at sites in Kafulafuta, Manyumbi, Choma, Sabina, Kamfinsa and Levy Mwanawasa Stadium. The tenders were eventually awarded to Nzovu Transport for the construction of Toll Plazas at Kafulafuta, Manyumbi and Choma toll sites in 2014 for total sum of K83,899,359.33 (VAT inclusive) and duration of nine months and Shire Construction Company for the construction of toll plazas at Sabina, Kamfinsa and Levy Mwanawasa Stadium for total sum of K74,481,744.37 (VAT inclusive) and duration of nine months. The two (2) projects, however, could not be completed within the agreed nine (9) months duration of the contracts. The parties, therefore, agreed to terminate the contracts. Following the termination of the above contracts, RDA then single-sourced AVIC International Project Engineering Company, who had successfully completed similar toll plazas at Katuba, Shimabala, Chongwe and Mumbwa in record time to finish the works on the Kafulafuta, Mwanawasa and Choma Toll Plazas.”

Asked to explain the circumstances that necessitated the single-sourcing of AVIC, Ndhlovu stated that the previous contractors could not finish the project at the agreed time.

“The decision to single source AVIC International Project Engineering Company was arrived at on the basis of the following:
1. The Contractor, AVIC International Project Engineering Company, had proven beyond doubt their capacities to carry out the works of the similar nature following the successful completion of construction works on Toll Plazas at Katuba, Shimabala, Mumbwa and Chongwe at high value within six months.
2. There was an urgent need at the time to complete the construction of these toll plazas to ensure early commencement of toll revenue collection. The process of direct bidding on the basis of this reason is in line with the requirements under clause 32 (2) of the Zambia Public Procurement Act No. 12 of 2008.
3. Furthermore, the RDA was granted a ‘No Objection’ by the Zambia Public Procurement Authority (ZPPA) to single-source Avic International Zambia Limited for the construction of the named Toll Plazas.
4. The Contractor, AVIC International Project Engineering Company, had proven beyond doubt their capacities to carry out the works of the similar nature following the successful completion of construction works on Toll Plazas at Katuba, Shimabala, Mumbwa and Chongwe at high value within six (6) months.
5. There was urgent need to complete the construction of the toll plazas to ensure early commencement of revenue collection. This is in line with the requirement for clause 32 (2) of the Zambia Public Procurement Act no. 12 of 2008. This objective has so far been achieved,” he stated.

When asked to explain why AVIC was paid over US$700,000 under this contract for the installation of tolling facilities at Garneton Toll Plaza, Ndhlovu stated: “No part of the AVIC Contract Sum was spent on the Garneton Toll Plaza,” which is contrary to the correspondence seen by News Diggers!

Further, the investigation found that the previous contractors who had been awarded contracts to construct the Michael Sata and the Kafulafuta Toll Plazas had already done over 35 per cent of construction works before the projects were handed to AVIC International who were awarded the deal at US$4.3 million and US$4.2 million respectively.

When contacted for an explanation, Minister of Infrastructure Development Vincent Mwale, who served as Local Government Minister during the time of the contract signing, asked News Diggers to quote the press query response from RDA as his own comment on the matter.

NRFA CONFIRMS MAJOR BREAKDOWNS AT SATA TOLL PLAZA

By Julia Malunga and Mirriam Chabala

Despite the quality assurance guarantee from AVIC International contained in the contract, the Michael Sata Toll Plaza started recording system failures shortly after it was commissioned, leaving motorists frustrated.

NRFA spokesperson Alphonsius Hamachila confirmed, at least, two major system breakdowns at the Michael Sata Toll Plaza this year, but could not give a clear explanation of the cause.

“The Michael Chilufya Sata Toll Station has been operational since 4th of November 2018. It has been installed with state-of-the-art Toll collection facilities in order to collect road tolls from motorists in line with the provisions of Tolls Act No. 14 of 2011. The station has had smooth operations for the last 10 months, ensuring that motorists are not delayed. There has only been 2 recorded major incidents (on 7th March and 29th June, 2019), pointing to the robust and resilient systems,” Hamachila told News Diggers in response to a press query.

“Motorists can always be assured that they will not be delayed and receipts will be issued for all payments made. Prior to deployment, the systems and facilities at all Toll Stations are thoroughly tested and audited to ensure, among other requirements, that they are resilient. Business continuity measures are also in place to handle unforeseen interruptions. All receipts issued are electronic except in cases of clients on prepaid Local User Discounts and Extensions of Tolls for foreign registered vehicles who could have changed routes. The Agency has positioned technical resources at the stations to quickly resolve any technical issues that may arise. The Agency has also put in place a Control Centre to remotely monitor in real-time operations at every Toll Station.”

But motorists who have used the Kitwe-Ndola dual carriageway during the breakdowns complained to News Diggers that it was difficult to tell if the money paid was properly accounted for as manual receipt were issued.

“I live in Ndola and drive to Kitwe for work every day. Can you imagine, when I reached the Michael Sata Toll Plaza today, which cost all that money, I found the system was down. They didn’t even have a proper explanation. They actually gave me a manual receipt; they said the system was down. Now we are not sure where this money is going when the system is down like that and agents are issuing handwritten receipts,” motorist Joseph Chisha told News Diggers.

Meanwhile, the Zambia Public Procurement Authority failed to respond to a press query by press time, saying the institution did not have a substantive CEO who could give an official explanation.

“The lady who is there [as CEO] is temporarily [there] and she is not formally appointed. So we are still waiting for the formal letter. The discussions we had today, no one was willing to respond. Although we did some verification, probably tomorrow we may have something…Your email was specific, you said you wanted to talk to acting CEO or the CEO. That is why we are hesitant to give you that information because we are waiting for the appointment of the CEO. As at now, we don’t have any CEO,” said ZPPA principal public relations officer John Chipandwe.

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