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Alweendo reins in CPB over gems tender

THE Central Procurement Board has failed to convince mines minister Tom Alweendo why it picked a diamond valuation company that charged the government N$70 million more than the outgoing service provider.

The CPB, on behalf of the mines ministry, had awarded a N$300 million contract to Gem Diamonds Namibia to evaluate Namdeb diamonds for five years, ahead of Global Diamond Valuators Namibia, the current service providers who had asked for N$230 million for the same job.

Documents, however, showed that the CPB appears to have allegedly cooked the scores to favour Gem Diamonds, which is linked to a known wheeler-dealer minister and a clique of connected business people.

Alweendo confirmed to the press on Tuesday that he wrote to his counterpart at finance, Calle Schlettwein (as the political head of CPB) and copied in the CPB, asking for an explanation.

He said it “will be a waste of public funds” if the national tender board opted for a company that is charging N$70 million more.

“It’s the responsibility of all public office-bearers to ensure value for money. As the paying ministry, all I want is to be assured by the responsible entities, CPB and Ministry of Finance, that they took reasonable care to ensure value for money,” he stated.

The CPB responded to Alweendo, but the minister is still not satisfied by their answer, which branded the news article on the matter “baseless”.

Evaluation documents  show that the CPB suspiciously scored the winning company – Gem Diamonds Namibia – 100% in all criteria for the tender.

Some companies later complained that they were penalised for offering free services.

“I didn’t do the tender evaluation to satisfy myself, nor was it necessary to do so. I rely on the CPB that has the functional responsibility to ensure value for money,” Alweendo said.

A senior government official told The Namibian this week that the CPB wanted to sign the valuation tender on Tuesday with the company which won the contract.

Everything was ready for the signatures, but the mines ministry’s executive director, Simeon Negumbo, refused to sign off the contract.

There are concerns that this tender was turned into a money-making scheme for a clique of well-placed individuals, especially since the law does not make provision for the government to issue this tender.

The Diamond Act states that “no person shall export any unpolished diamond from Namibia, unless that diamond has been submitted to the minister for determination of its market value”.

Since the minister does not have the expertise to evaluate diamonds, a tender process was created to make sure that the state was not underpaid for its diamonds.

 

A person familiar with this tender suggested that the government should take charge of this process, instead of enriching a private company that, in most cases, rubber-stamps prices a few times per year.

Schlettwein told the media this week that he is not happy with how the government is charged for this tender.

“From a value for money aspect, my concern is that the price to be paid is pegged to the value of the commodity rather than the service delivered and is hence grossly overpriced,” he said.

He said the government should not outsource the work of valuating the diamonds for the state.

“Outsourcing the valuation to an individual entity is not the best and it is vulnerable to overpricing. We need to bring the function of the evaluating process back into existing structures and link it with the required checks and balances,” Schlettwein said.

He added that Alweendo can use the law to cancel the tender if he has valid reasons to suspect wrongdoing.

Alweendo, who has for over a year now tried to clean up the mines ministry’s reputation of being a hotbed of corruption, said it would not make sense to cancel the tender without correcting possible loopholes.

President Hage Geingob removed former mines minister Obeth Kandjoze after he oversaw a ministry plagued by allegations of corruption involving billions of dollars at state entities such as the National Petroleum Corporation of Namibia and Namib Desert Diamonds (Namdia).

Central Procurement Board chairperson Patrick Swartz did not answer questions sent to him yesterday.

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