Hostel Food Tenderer Cries Foul Again

A SCHOOL hostels catering tender that has already been the subject of a legal battle in the Supreme Court is again at the centre of a case in which a Tsumeb-based caterer is suing the Tender Board of Namibia and top officials of the Ministry of Education.

The close corporation Free Namibia Caterers CC, which successfully challenged the Tender Board’s award of a five-year contract to supply food to schools in the Ohangwena and Oshikoto regions to a company in which the Swapo Party Women’s Council had a stake, has now launched a new case in the High Court to halt the award of a new five-year contract for the provision of catering services to school hostels in the two regions.

Free Namibia Caterers is suing the chairperson of the Tender Board, the minister of education, the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Education, and the director in the ministry’s Directorate of Programmes and Quality Assurance to halt the tender process that is supposed to result in the appointment of a contractor to carry out the catering contract in the two regions until 2019.

After Free Namibia Caterers succeeded in getting a court order that set aside the tender award to the company Conger Investments, trading under the name Atlantic Food Services, the Tender Board eventually decided in November last year to award the tender to Free Namibia Caterers.

The managing member of the close corporation, Christie Mentz, says in an affidavit filed at the High Court that it was assumed that the contract awarded to Free Namibia Caterers was for a period of five years, which was the period at stake in the tender previously challenged in court. However, she discovered about three weeks ago that the Tender Board had called for new tender bids to be submitted to it for the provision of catering services to Government school hostels for the period from the start of June this year to the end of May 2019.

The new tender, aertised on 4 March, includes the provision of catering services to school hostels in the Oshikoto and Ohangwena regions, which are the regions where Free Namibia Caterers has been providing catering services to hostels since January this year.

Mentz states in her affidavit that Free Namibia Caterers had been asking the Tender Board in several letters to clarify the term of the contract awarded to the close corporation in November, without getting any reply until the 4 March tender aertisement indicated that the term of the contract would not be for five years after all.

Mentz states that in her view the contract awarded to Free Namibia Caterers at a cost of about N$71 million a year should endure for five years from January 2014, as that was the contract period in the previous tender that was set aside by the High Court.

The chairperson of the Tender Board and permanent secretary in the Ministry of Finance, Ericah Shafudah, disagrees with this view of Mentz. She says in an affidavit also filed at the court that Free Namibia Caterers “was acutely aware” of the fact that if the close corporation was the successful tenderer when the Tender Board reconsidered the tender set aside by the High Court it would have been only for the remainder of the tender period, which is to the end of this month.

Free Namibia Caterers is asking the High Court to stop the tender process in respect of the Oshikoto and Ohangwena regions until further legal action, through which it will ask the court to set aside the Tender Board’s decision to invite tenders for the provision of catering services to school hostels in the two regions until 2019, has been finalised.

Judge Maphios Cheda, who heard oral arguments on the matter on Thursday last week, is expected to give a ruling by Thursday this week.

The Supreme Court dismissed an appeal against the High Court’s setting aside of the tender award in July last year after finding that the tender process had been irregularly influenced to favour the company.

The Supreme Court referred the tender, which had been awarded to Atlantic Food Services in May 2009, back to the Tender Board to be reconsidered and directed that Atlantic Food Services had to be excluded from the tenderers whose bids were to be considered again.

The Tender Board awarded the contract to the politically-connected Atlantic Food Services after the company’s tender bid had at first been disqualified. The disqualification was reversed after a spokesperson of the Swapo Party Women’s Council had written a letter to the chairperson of the ministry’s tender committee to lobby on behalf of Atlantic Food Services.

The company went on to supply goods in terms of the tender for about four years, Shafudah says in her affidavit.

Source : The Namibian