$42m fire tender tweet attracts massive reactions, but local govt minister Vincent Mwale says ‘I wasn’t there’

LOCAL government minister Vincent Mwale’s tweet on the handing over 42 fire tenders to councils on Saturday attracted massive reactions, forcing him to later tweet that it was difficult for him to know about the $42 million deal because he was sports minister at the time the contract was awarded in 2015.

And Mwale has asked Zambians if they have ever wondered why people speak after leaving government because others just ‘join the chorus’ in speaking about government policy and do not give personal opinion.

Meanwhile, the Chipangali member of parliament says Cabinet or ministers do not make any decisions on the award of contracts but the Zambia Public Procurement Authority (ZPPA).

However, a letter dated December 3, 2015 by local government and housing head of procurement and supplies unit Charles Chisanga has revealed that the decision to award the contract to Grand View International to supply 42 fire tenders at the cost of $42 million was not made by the ZPPA.

“Please be informed that the evaluation of the above mentioned tender has been concluded and the following bidder [Grand View International] has been recommended for contract award as they are the best evaluated,”

stated Chisanga.

According to sources, most of the tenders submitted for the supply of the fire tenders were in the range of $15 million to $19 million, but the government decided to give middlemen the contract to supply the fire fighting trucks at the cost of $42 million.

“One of the companies that objected to the $42 million tender even called in manufacturers to come and explain the costs of all the specifications required. The highest one could get was $19 million for the 42 trucks, including all taxes, insurance and shipping,”

said the source.

Many Zambians, among them Roan PF member of parliament Chishimba Kambwili, have condemned the $42 million fire tender contract, a deal that puts the cost of each unit at $1million.

Kambwili said he had never seen the levels of theft in a government than the ones being seen under President Edgar Lungu’s regime and branded the fire tender deal corrupt and told the PF government “takwaba ukwiba kwa ifi”.

After the handover of the fire trucks, Mwale took to Twitter where he tweeted: “This morning, the Veep handed over 42 fire fighting trucks bought by Min of Local Gov. to 39 Councils. Fire policy, fire Department coming!”

A few tweets commended Mwale and the PF government for the machines, before Charlotte Scott, the wife to former Vice-President Dr Guy Scott, tweeted to ask: “$1,000,000 for a fire tender? Or have I been misinformed?”

Another, Jonathan, chipped in, “These are over priced fire trucks, 1millon USD for each truck is just too much.”

Two others then tweeted, asking Mwale about the suppliers of the fire trucks and demanding answers from him as by this time, he had gone quiet.

In response, @chandaMWIKO tweeted, “Unfortunately the honorable only replies to applause and not to queries. Sad” while Chanda tweeted, “$42 [million] is not honestly adding up, we know the trucks are Scania [but] who is fitting them in Spain? Then selling them at such prices?”

In response to Charlotte’s query, Mwale then tweeted, “It’s hard to answer this question the way it has been asked coz the USD 42m includes training, fire clothing, communications equipment etc.”

When pressed further on the price, Mwale tweeted: “Insamushi shenu mufwile ukubikako cost ya training package, fireproof clothing, communications equipment nafimbi fimbi.”

When asked when the contracts were awarded, Mwale said the deal was sealed late 2015 “or early 2016, I have to check the records, I was not in the Ministry of Local Government then”.

Local musician Chama Fumba, AKA Pilato, tweeted and wondered where the money to buy the 42 fire tenders had come from because it was not budgeted for in the 2017 national budget.

“If the last budget didn’t have the 42 fire fighting trucks for $42m…do we need a new budget to but what’s not budgeted for?” Pilato asked.

Pilato had earlier on Saturday posted on his Facebook page questioning the high costing for the fire trucks, saying a $1 million fire tender can only put out fire in hell, and not in Zambia.

“If I were you, I wouldn’t focus much on politicians, I would deal with the people having their hands on procurement, the ones presiding over tenders,” Mwale tweeted in response to a query from Pilato and others.

But Pilato asked Mwale to tell them who the people behind the tenders were.

“Tell us those people honourable. These [politicians] seem to be controlling everyone. We only hear of tenders when printing ballot papers,” he tweeted, with another calling himself as section.80 retweeting, “Ministers or State House? Hard to believe a mere procurement officer approved purchase/supply all the way from Spain.”

Mwale, in response, tweeted, “Like I said earlier on, it’s important to know how things work in government in order to get to the bottom of things. It’s good to know your target”, with Munyama retweeting, “Procurement? Can they approve such a purchase, really? If so, then we have even bigger problems.”

When Pilato challenged him if the current government was individualistic and not collective and that he should issue a statement distancing himself from the tender, Mwale stated: “Maybe I ask you a question? How did you think I was going to know while I was serving at the Ministry of Youth and Sport? At what point?…You can choose to scream and shout at every GRZ official or you can choose to get down to the bottom of things but we know what brings good results.”

However, Pilato asked: “Sir, when you search your heart and mind, is the procurement of 42 fire trucks at $42m justifiable?”

In response, Mwale said, “Let me issue a statement to Parliament then we can discuss further. As minister, I am constrained to give my personal opinion on the matter”, to which Clive Mbs retweeted: “So sir, ministers don’t give personal opinion when something seems wrong from the collective perspective of Cabinet? You just join the chorus?”

Mwale: “You may join the chorus if you like but you don’t give personal opinion. Have you not wondered why people only talk after they leave [government]?”

Pilato then tweeted and said it appeared “ministers are just backing vocalists to the off key lead singer”.

“No need for brains then, just good pretenders who can be paid,” he tweeted.

And when Kenmula told Mwale that his question in responding to another question sounded like an escape, asking him if he never sat in Cabinet where such decisions were made, the minister claimed Cabinet never made decisions on projects.

“Cabinet doesn’t get involved in procurement of any project no matter the size, such things are not tabled. ZPPA is the authority. Ask Kambwili,” tweeted Mwale.

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