Windhoek – The gloves are off as Namibian companies rope in the communications minister to unlock the impasse around Telecom Namibia’s lucrative multi-million dollar tender to publish the country’s telephone directory.
The quinquennial (five-yearly) tender, whose value is estimated in excess of N$40 million per annum, has attracted controversy almost every time it was advertised.
For the last 10 years the tender has, since 2011, been managed by TDS Directory Operations Namibia, a joint venture by a South African and local entity, Ripanga Investment Holdings.
The venture was successful for a number of years in warding off competition from aspiring local start-ups.
This time, however, the controversy around the tendering process also threatens to abruptly halt the career rise of the Telecom’s acting managing director, Theo Klein, whom the previous board recommended to be confirmed into the position.
New Era can confirm that the new board – which was announced by Information Minister Tjekero Tweya a fortnight ago – is scheduled to meet today, October 26.
Items on its agenda include the telephone directory tender and the previous board’s recommendation that Klein be appointed as substantive managing director. Telecom’s new board members that New Era spoke to, however, refused to discuss operational issues at the national telecommunications giant.
The escalation in the fight for the telephone directory tender was fuelled by what two Namibian companies, Adforce Namibia and Namibia Directory & Media Services, have deemed as a systematic effort on the part of Telecom to ensure that TDS keeps the contract.
Klein, however, dismissed the claims of irregularities on Telecom’ side.
“Our tender conditions are very clear with regard to queries, which should be raised with the Tender Secretariat Office,” he told New Era.
“No issue in this regard was raised or escalated to my office by those tenderers to date. Hence, I regard such allegations as unfounded and misplaced.”
However, representatives of the two Namibian bidding companies have dug in their heels, insisting that Klein as acting managing director has done little to ensure transparency in the tendering process.
His stance, the two companies allege, amounts to turning a blind eye to allegations that senior managers at Telecom are beneficiaries of the tender for as long as it remains with TDS Namibia.
Klein has rejected the claims of corruption as outlandish. “Do they have any proof of senior managers who benefited directly? This is a very serious allegation,” he pointed out.
It is the second time that the two Namibian companies bid for the tender, having previously lost out to TDS Namibia.
And each time they lost they contended that TDS Namibia received preferential treatment. They also accused the winners of not possessing a good standing certificate from the Receiver of Revenue.
New Era can confirm that representatives of the two firms have in the past two days sought an audience with ICT Minister Tjekero Tweya to present their grievances.
This is the latest attempt, following a letter by Swapo Party Youth League acting secretary and parliamentary backbencher Veikko Nekundi to Tweya, dated July 13, alleging irregularities in the tender process.
TDS Namibia’s contact person at the head office in South Africa, Thabo Seopa, did not respond to specific questions.
Adforce Namibia executive director Abius Akwaake also did not respond to an invitation to comment on this report.
Alec Boois, a representative of Namibia Directory & Media Services, yesterday confirmed to New Era that he, as company chairperson, wrote to Telecom to report what he termed as “highly unusual requests”.
Boois hinted that his company might ask other Namibian bidders to prevent Telecom from awarding the tender to TDS Namibia, pending a formal review.
He based his suspicion on the fact that Telecom – weeks after the closing of the tender – requested all companies that placed bids to submit documents, including certificates of good standing, skills and qualifications data and CVs of key permanent personnel.
Boois was adamant that contrary to what Klein alleged Namibia Directory & Media Services had submitted all the documents with its initial submission prior to the closing of the tender. “All tenderers were to comply with these requirements and should have been submitted with the tender on the deadline, 21st June 2016, which was clearly communicated to all to comply,” Boois told New Era.
“If one company had failed to submit correct or relevant documents while others did, why should there be a second request? Clearly it is to tip the scale in favour of the company that did not,” he argued.
… But acting MD disagrees
Below is the response from Telecom Namibia’s acting managing director, Theo Klein, to questions regarding the process surrounding the tender for Telecom’s telephone directory.
“On the closing date, three bidders submitted tender offers: TDS Directory Operations Namibia, Namibia Directory and Media Services (Pty) Ltd and Adforce Namibia.
During July 2016, the evaluation team recorded that all three bidders have documents and information missing and the team could not proceed until all the mandatory information and documents are provided.
The team had a choice to either cancel the tender due to lack of information, or request for the outstanding information for validation. In terms of corporate governance, cancelling the tender would have unfair repercussions, as the offer values were read out at the opening and reading of the offers.
Our tender conditions are very clear with regard to queries, which should be raised with the Tender Secretariat Office. No issue in this regard was raised or escalated to my office by those tenderers to date, hence regard such allegations as unfounded and misplaced.
Here are the outstanding documents per tenderer at the time:
“It is questionable why they resort to newspapers, while these remain unfounded allegations. Do they have any proof of senior managers, who benefited directly? This is a very serious allegation,” Klein wrote in response.