Disputed tender leaves residents of Eastern Cape municipality facing water crisis



03/08/2020
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Durban - A Durban-based Swedish energy company’s legal battle against an Eastern Cape municipality over an “unlawfully” awarded multimillion-rand water contract has highlighted that an entire town could soon be left waterless.

The DA has called on Eastern Cape premier Oscar Mabuyane to refer the failed Ndlambe Municipality desalination plant tender for special investigation and to suspend all officials involved in the matter.

Vicky Knoetze, DA co-operative governance spokesperson in the Eastern Cape legislature, made the call against the backdrop of the looming water crisis in Port Alfred, due to fast-dwindling supplies in the Sarel Hayward Dam on the Kowie River.

The catalyst was the Grahamstown High Court ruling last month which declared the contract unlawful and the decision to award it must be reviewed and set aside.

In Knoetze’s parliamentary member’s statement last week, she called on Mabuyane to declare war on corruption.

“The Eastern Cape has earned the title of not only the epicentre of the virus but ‘the epicentre of corruption’.

“The people of the province are the true victims of corruption, looting, theft and maladministration of public funds meant for creating a life of value and prosperity.”

Knoetze told the Sunday Tribune that the Ndlambe contract matter was doubly egregious because of the grave water challenges faced by Port Alfred and, to a lesser extent, Bathurst.

“Day zero was in December last year and they only survived because of a bit of rain that arrived in time.

“If they don’t get substantial rains they will run out of water and the fears are compounded by the Covid-19 pandemic.

“It is critical that municipal tenders are lawful and transparent for this reverse osmosis plant and to get construction going as soon as possible. It’s the only plan they have on the table so they’ve got to make it work.”

She said as a start, the unlawful R20m payment in advance to Quality Filtration Services (QFS) needed to be returned to the municipality.

The Ndlambe contract matter was thrust into the spotlight after it was challenged in court by MEB Energy, which also made a bid.

According to the July 7 High Court judgment, Ndlambe Municipality advertised the work in November for a R20m emergency plant to be built next to the Kowie River, where seawater would be subjected to reverse osmosis technology to generate two megalitres of clean water a day.

Criteria were set, and although none of the bidders achieved the minimum stipulated standard, this minimum was set aside and QFS was named as the only compliant bidder.

The municipality subsequently entered into negotiations with QFS about expanding the capacity of the plant to five megalitres, to change the specifications to allow for grey water and seawater processing and changing the site of the project.

The cost ballooned to R102.6m and R20m was paid to QFS before it had done any work or the contract finalised.

In his judgment, Judge Phillip Zilwa said the tender was nullified because of the way it was managed.

“A tender cannot be assessed for functionality on undisclosed or subjective criteria It was unlawful and it is reviewable.”

Judge Zilwa said it was not open to the municipal manager to ignore the prescribed minimum score for functionality as he purported to do in this matter.

“His weak-kneed attempt to explain this serious shortcoming amounts to nought.”

“The decision by Ndlambe Municipality to award the tender to QFS is set aside.”

He said the municipality should pay the costs of the case.

Ndlambe municipal spokesperson Khululekile Mbolekwa said they were preparing documents for a tender to possibly go out this month, in keeping with the judgment.

Aharon Even, an MEB Energy director, said they would bid again for the contract.

Sunday Tribune

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