- Leaked emails reveal conflict of interest
- Director also sits on evaluation committee
- The bidder gets awarded the tender
- Director meets the bidder in Spain
- System proving costly for BOCRA to run
A damning chain of emails between a director at Botswana Communications Regulatory Authority (BOCRA) and a Spanish tech company details a conspiracy to favour the tech company with secret tender information in an attempt to win over the multi-million pula contract.
BOCRA’s Acting Director of Technical Services Cynthia Phiase may have given preferential treatment to the Sales Director of IBYS Technologies, Sergio Farias over other bidders for TENDER NO: BOCRA/PT/008/2014.15 (Supply, delivery, installation and commissioning of both the fixed and mobile Quality of Service (QoS) Monitoring System for the Botswana Communications Regulatory Authority) during the tendering stages.
The Botswana Gazette is in possession of a series of email communication regarding the tender. The emails which started off the chain commenced in early 2015 with Phiase sending Farias an email with the subject: NOTICE OF TENDERS. The initial email, innocuous in its content, provided Farias information on upcoming BOCRA tenders. Farias responded on 12 January 2015 acknowledging receipt of the email. A seemingly elated Farias wrote back, ‘‘Dear Cynthia, Happy New Year, my best wishes to you and yours in 2015. I have just received your email with the Tenders information, this is good news!!!!’’. Farias continued to ask for more information in the same email asking if there was a way he could purchase the tender documents remotely. ‘‘I mean, can we have BOCRA´s Bank Account for us to make a money transfer? And then you can maybe email us the documents, it this possible? Take into account that submission date is not later than 12:00 noon on the 29th Jan 2015, meaning the time is tight and we will definitely need time to prepare and dispatch everything,’’ Farias asked Phiase.
Farias went further to request, ‘‘Or, can we in the interim, have the documents (a draft or a non-official version, until we buy the official one) so we can start working on it without any delay? Please help me on this, I need your best advice.’’ The following day, January 13, Phiase sent an email to Farias asking if he knows anybody in Botswana who can buy the tender for him and promised that she can thereafter send him a soft copy.
‘‘I will be back in the office at 11am , please send a response so that I know if all is fine or you still need help,’’ Phiase wrote in the email. Farias responded three hours later, ‘‘Dear Cynthia, Thanks for your quick feedback. Well, in the past my company had a local partner in Botswana (see one of his emails below), he introduced us to BOCRA back in 2008, but we lost contact, do not know if he is still available, I just sent an email to him and am waiting for his reply now. Nonetheless, if you think you can help or simply suggest or recommend somebody (an agent, a company or somebody you know well…) that would be great to me.’’
The local partner Farias was referring to was one Tobias Mweendo, a Zambian businessman then based in Botswana. This publication has seen an email that was sent by Mweendo to members of BOCRA management in 2008 registering his ‘‘gratitude for the valuable discussion that we had’’.
After a day passed without Phiase responding, Farias sent another email dated, 14 January pleading for Phiase’s further assistance.
Phiase responded on 15 January, ‘‘Please send the information that I should register you with for the tender, I will then try and ask somebody to go and buy it for you’’.
Phiase used her official email address during the exchange of correspondence. She was also part of the evaluation committee that adjudicated the same tender she was assisting Farias with. Farias’ company, IBYS Technologies was eventually awarded the tender at a cost of P4, 556,738.32.
At the time of the email exchange, Phiase was privy to all the tender requirements by virtue of her position then as Deputy Director of Numbering and Standards. As Deputy Director of Numbering and Standards the project fell under her section.
This publication can confirm that Phiase travelled to the IBYS Technology Head Office in Spain to do the acceptance tests for the Quality of Service (QoS) Monitoring System that was acquired.
It has emerged, following the award of the tender, that the system is proving too costly for BOCRA as they now have to pay astronomical bills to BTC for the system to provide required outcomes.
In his response to our enquiries, BOCRA Deputy Director Corporate Communications Aaron Nyelesi confirmed that IBYS Technologies has no local agent. He further advised that BOCRA Tender rules do not allow officials to privately discuss tenders with potential bidders. Nyelesi also indicated that whilst the QoS Monitoring System is working well it is expensive to operate as BOCRA is billed for generating calls across all the networks for monitoring purposes. He said the amount charged depends on the number of sites monitored and how often the monitoring is done. He revealed that the average monthly bill for the three operators is P50 000.
On why they have to rely on reports generated by the same operators they are monitoring without their system being able to produce an independent audit, Nyelesi said the Quality of Service Monitoring System that BOCRA acquired from IBYS Technologies is used to monitor sampled locations and does not cover the entire country. ‘‘Therefore, BOCRA continues to rely on reports from operators for the rest of the country data. The results obtained through the BOCRA QoS Monitoring System are used for comparison or validation of operators’ reports,’’ he responded. Nyelesi added that BOCRA was not aware that some bidders could have been extended unfair advantage over others. ‘‘Prior to tendering, BOCRA sourced quotations from; VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, Aretas Holdings (PTY) LTD, SAAB Grintek, Ibys Technologies and Ericsson AB for purposes of carrying out a drive tests. Following the submission of quotations, BOCRA decided to go to public tender,’’ he said.
Phiase did not respond to questions sent by this publication to her official email address last week. We had sought to understand her relationship with Farias and whether the communication did not border on conflict of interest. Farias on the other hand acknowledged receipt of our questions and said he needed to check with his legal department before he can respond. “I know we have some internal restrictions in this respect due to our company´s communications policy, so I need to double-check how I must proceed in this particular case. I will contact you as soon as I have any news”, he wrote in his email response. This publication is still waiting for the response.