Ex-NAC bosses ‘handpicked’ Chinese contractor

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Staff Reporter

Windhoek-Former NAC CEO Tamer El-Kallawi and engineering executive Courage Silombela are accused in papers before the High Court of having handpicked a Chinese company for work on the Ondangwa airport that has already netted the company N$208 million during Phase 1.

The two executives, who convinced the previous NAC board to re-appoint the same company, China State Construction Engineering Corporation, for Phase 2 of the project without going on tender, were eventually charged for bribery, fraud, corruption, forgery and dishonesty.

They both later left the company, with Silombela resigning while El-Kalawi reached a ‘without prejudice’ separation settlement.

Among contentious issues is how the N$169 million tender for Phase 2 of the rehabilitation of the Ondangwa airport to China State Construction Engineering Corporation, skyrocketed to N$211 million, with the new NAC board suspecting collusion.

The allegations, which include irregularities and corruption, also implicate officials at the works and transport ministry.

The NAC wants the High Court to set aside the decision by the previous NAC board to appoint China State Construction Engineering for the second phase of rehabilitating the Ondangwa airport runway.

The lawyers for the two parties are set for a status hearing tomorrow, where a date for the commencement of the hearing is expected to be set. In their submission, NAC is emphatic that the Chinese company had received the contracts for Ondangwa airport irregularly, starting with the first phase of the contract to rehabilitate the airport.

NAC contends that the consultant managing the tender had initially only recommended four names of prospective tenderers at the very beginning of the rehabilitation tender process, and none of the names included China State Construction Engineering.

NAC submits that at a meeting on September 5, 2014 with the consultant Aurecon, that was managing the tender process, El-Kallawi and Silombela gave two names to be included on the list of contenders for Phase 1 of the project.

One of those names is China State Construction Engineering. “It is on that basis that the China State ultimately became part of the four prospective bidders invited to take part in the selective tender process for Ondangwa Phase 1,” reads a court document.

The Chinese company was awarded the tender for Phase 1 of the project, worth slightly more than N$208 million. From there onwards, NAC submits, Silombela and El-Kallawi, made it a point to change the rules of the tender process by suggesting to the previous board that there should be no further need to call for a tender for Phase 2 of the rehabilitation tender because China State was already on site.

The Chinese firm has the necessary expertise, and it would be cheaper to retain it for the next phase than to start afresh with a new tender process, the two officials allegedly told the board. The current board is also questioning how the initial tender value of N$169 million jumped to N$211 million for Phase 2. The former NAC bosses are said to have told the previous board to favourably consider the new amount, as it was still within the N$240 million budget allocated to the project.

In their answering affidavit, China State contends that cost escalations cannot be used as reason to cancel Phase 2 of the rehabilitation tender, because NAC “board minutes dated 10 March 2017 states that the board had N$240 million in the capital budget”.

“This figure is sufficient to execute the project in full,” argues China Sate manager and director, Zhou Xihua, adding: “In any event, inadequate funding ex post facto the award of the tender is not a ground of review.”
Zhou dropped a bombshell when he submitted to the court that new NAC board chairperson Rodger Kauta has been bribed by a new competing Turkish company, Tasyapi Group. Kauta has denied the allegations as a mere fabrication, when he talked to New Era.

However, the senior officials at the Ministry of Works and Transport appear to have aligned themselves with China State Construction Engineering, in a move that appears to give validity to NAC’s assertion of favouritism towards the Chinese company.

In December 2017, the permanent secretary in the works ministry, Willem Goeimann, wrote a 12-page letter with annexures to the permanent secretary in the Office of the President, Samuel /Goagoseb, clarifying allegations of corruption and collusion made at a State House meeting of December 5. Goeimann was emphatic that the tender given to the Chinese company for Phase 2 remained valid, and uses the International Federation of Consulting Engineers (Fidic) contractual laws as the basis of that validity.

Goeimann points out that a tender, according to the Fidic law, exists as long as there existed a “priced offer” for the work from the contractor, and a letter of award by NAC and the acceptance by the contractor.

Goeimann also sided with the Chinese company that the new board, under Kauta, wants to terminate the Phase 2 contract with the Chinese company so they can benefit from the multimillion dollar kickbacks from a new contract that he has personally signed with the Tasyapi Group. The Chinese company has not dealt with the NAC’s allegations of irregularity in the process of awarding the tender to it. In fact, Zhou says all such allegations are best answered by El-Kallawi and Silombela, who have all since resigned after being suspended and charged by NAC because of that tender.

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