Shs180b chamber deal casts dark shadow on Parliament

Monday July 10 2017

Roko will construct a new state-of-the-art

Roko will construct a new state-of-the-art chamber, modify the existing one and build a hall of honour. But the process to give out the deal to Roko has left a sour taste in the mouths of many firms. PHOTO BY ALEX ESAGALA 

By Solomon Arinaitwe

Technocrats at Parliament who have the courage to speak about how the lucrative Shs180b for the construction of a new chamber was expeditiously doled out to Roko can only do it in hushed tones.

Very few, still, can freely talk about the deal. It is a political hot-potato at Parliament and the more you disassociate with it, the safer.

Those who speak about the deal can only do it off-record and offer very little working information.

The deal had dragged on for more than a year amid allegations of collusion between rival firms and technocrats at Parliament handling the tendering process until it was summarily doled out to Roko Construction Company this week.

Roko will construct a new state-of-the-art chamber, modify the existing one and build a hall of honour.
But the process to give out the deal to Roko has left a sour taste in the mouths of many firms and as day follows night, government corruption watchdog agencies like the Inspector General of Government (IGG) and Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets Authority (PPDA) will have to swing into action at some point.

As is often the case, all money-spinning deals in Uganda bring together a cabal of ‘tenderpreneurs’ to flex their connection muscles and the winner often takes it all. The Shs180b deal for the construction of a new chamber was not any different.

Talk in the corridors is that one of the firms that was competing for the deal paid some technocrats at Parliament and was assured of winning the deal only for things to change at the last minute after another firm had also made some payments.

The technocrats that picked money from one of the firms and failed to deliver the deal are said to be on tenterhooks.

Though he understandably could not mention names, Mr Chris Obore, the director of communication and public affairs at Parliament, by and large confirmed that there were unscrupulous characters involved in the deal who lined their pockets.

“We [Parliament] also know that some of the complainants may have received or attempted to receive inducements from other parties in exchange for the contract but the award to Roko might have put them in the unenviable position of either returning the inducements or failing to receive it,” Mr Obore said.

Mr Obore even went as far as accusing a company he did not name of “falsifying tax returns” and said “those responsible” did not take action against the said firm.

Five firms: Roko Construction Ltd, CRJE (East Africa) Ltd, China Civil Engineering Construction Company, China Complete Plant Import and Export, Seyani Brothers & Co.

Ltd and China National Aero-technology International have been vigorously haggling over the deal over the past one year.

For now, Roko seems to have come out on top. But all is not well with the Roko deal.
In awarding the deal to Roko, Parliament ignored safety nets to deter corruption as provided by PPDA regulations.

Left in the dark
No post evaluation assessment study was conducted on Roko as stipulated by PPDA regulations.
PPDA, the government agency that is in charge of procurement, was completely left in the dark about the entire bidding process.

Sources say M/S Seyani Brothers Co. Ltd, the firm that built the Shs30 billion parking yard at Parliament, is said to be furious over the process and is preparing a petition to the IGG detailing what went wrong with the bidding process.

Top technocrats at Parliament have been variously named to have been promoting rival firms to win the lucrative deal while a member of the First Family has also been cited to have been fronting a company that lost the deal.

Sources say President Museveni has not been happy that the process to construct a new chamber had dragged on for more than a year and ordered that construction has to start this financial year.

Mr Museveni’s orders are being used by technocrats as the cover for the flouting of procurement procedures.
For a deal that had originally been cancelled by the IGG, it’s strange that it was then hatched and hastily concluded in a marathon three days. The IGG will also be interested in how a process it had cancelled was resumed and hurriedly pulled off.

Granted, the new chamber is urgently needed to replace the current chambers which were built by the colonial government to accommodate only 80 MPs but currently hosts 449 legislators but it was important for due process to be followed.

The deal has also re-ignited the frosty relationship between Parliament and the Ministry of Finance as technocrats at the Legislature suspect that the Treasury was in some way frustrating the financing of the deal.

De-Point Consultants Ltd, a private recruitment firm had been hired to drive the tendering process for the chamber deal but little is known of what became of its recruitment process.

Just as Parliament was leading the fight against abuse of processes with the Abdu Katuntu-led Committee on Commissions, Statutory Authorities and State Enterprises (Cosase) doing a good job with the “Oil cash probe”, the chamber deal seems to set to spoil the party.

Just as Cosase investigated whether processes were followed when a clique of government officials shared out Shs6b as a reward for winning oil cases, government watchdog agencies like PPDA and IGG must interest itself in how the chamber deal was handled.