A National Pension Scheme Authority (NAPSA) evaluation committee for the Twin Palm-proposed River View Park Infrastructure Development project has recommended the awarding of a construction tender to AVIC International Zambia Limited at a bid sum of US $25.8 million against the construction company’s willingness to do the work for US $21.63 million.

We are eager to read a press statement where NAPSA will explain how and why they made this recommendation because as far as we have gathered, the quantity surveyor engaged advised that the AVIC international’s bid was unrealistic and would also take a longer completion period compared to other bidders.

What we know is that the NAPSA evaluation committee decided that AVIC International’s bid was on the lower side to successfully run the fleet of heavy equipment proposed in their tender and they concluded on behalf of the bidder that if they don’t adjust the offer upwards, they would risk having challenges in servicing and maintaining the heavy equipment to be used in the works.

“It is, hereby, recommended that the tender for the proposed River View Park Infrastructure Development Phase 1 at the National Pensions Scheme Authority (NAPSA) Twin Palm Land, East of Lusaka be awarded to AVIC International Zambia Limited at the corrected bid sum of US $25,707,782.26, inclusive of contingencies and cost escalations and VAT, with a completion period of 638 calendar days being the best-evaluated bidder,” stated the NAPSA evaluation committee.

Charles Milupi says this does not make sense because it is not the job of the evaluation committee to advise a bidder to increase the cost for the contract so that you can select the company, which is exactly what the NAPSA officials did for AVIC International.

“When you invite tenders or invite people to bid on any work, the bidders will catalogue their cost and they will also put contingency among the cost. It is already in the bid price. And as an international construction organisation, AVIC cannot forget to put contingencies in the bid price because this is standard. So, to say ‘no, we are giving them extra US $4 million to cater for contingency…’ and first of all, US $4 million is roughly 20 per cent of US $21 million. The normal contingency is always 10 per cent,” argued Milupi.

“Contingency is never put in the bid by the evaluation committee, no! It should be put in by the bidders. I speak because for many years, I have experience in running contracts. They should not cheat us!”

Whatever the justification for this recommendation, Zambians deserve to know how that US $4 million will be broken down. Like Milupi is arguing, there is no way that AVIC International can forget to include VAT or contingencies in their cost estimates, only to be reminded by the evaluation committee. In the face of the public, this awarding of contract smells corruption and abuse of public funds. So NAPSA must not keep quiet and pretend like there is no scandal here. We challenge them to face the owners of that pension money and explain their grounds for this suspicious recommendation, not just urging the public to ignore the story.

This brings us to the issue that we have been talking about regarding Chinese companies and corruption. In our view, China is very willing to do clean business in Africa and Zambia in particular, but we, the citizens in positions of power, want to benefit corruptly from their businesses. Here is a case where a Chinese company says we are ready to do this job for US $21 million, but the institution being charged says “no, that money is too little, we want to give you US$4 million extra.” Why?

If NAPSA meant well, they would have invited all the bidders and told them that “we have noticed that you have excluded VAT and contingencies in your bids, can you please include that and resubmit your documents for consideration.” After that, you explain to the public, the owners of the money, why that decision was taken. That’s what a transparent evaluation committee would do.

There is no other explanation why American companies, European companies don’t get these government contracts, other than the fact that they are not willing to give kickbacks! It’s almost impossible for a German engineering company to give kickbacks to a government official for an awarded contract. But China doesn’t mind. Whatever you tell them, they do. If you advise them to double the bid price so that the other 100 per cent goes into the President’s pocket as a kickback, they will do just that.

The truth is, these roads don’t cost that much in China. Just look at the Chinese road network, which penetrates through mountains, crosses oceans and escalates into the skies. That country has been building 9,000 kilometres of such roads every year since 2011. One can only imagine how much Zambia would have to spend on such an undertaking if we are spending US $1.2 billion to construct a road stretch of 316 kilometres from Lusaka to Ndola!

The revelations from the NAPSA scandal only tell us that when we are complaining about corruption in the construction industry, we must apportion 90 per cent of the blame on our fellow citizens who hold decision-making positions in government institutions. The sad part is that criminals have no number plates so even when such scandals are exposed, they don’t feel ashamed.