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Private Companies Fault Government’s Decision to Award Contract to Comfort Quality

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By Yankuba Jallow

The contract to print number plates was awarded to Comfort Quality Services in a deal that other private Companies  said was marred by favouritism. 

The participating Companies in the bidding process said the contract was unfairly awarded to Comfort Quality Services. 

If readers can recall, the Ministry of Interior invited bidders to make aluminum number plates on contract on 2nd January 2019. Many private entities participated in the bidding process held at the Ministry of Interior and as a matter of formality; the participating Companies were each asked to purchase a tender document for a non-refundable fee of ten thousand dalasi from the procurement office of the Ministry of Interior.

According to the bid documents from all the Companies that participated in the bidding process, Comfort Quality Services Group offered D65,750,000; Touba Trading Enterprise offered DD45,500,000; Tedungal Multimedia and Consultancy offered D35,000,000; SAMAR’T Gambia offered D32,500,000; Saher Jobe Enterprise offered D32,500,000 and ‘Fayling’ offered D15,625,500. Comfort Quality Company was awarded the contract as the highest bidder with an amount of sixty-five million, seven hundred and fifty thousand dalasi (D65,750,000).

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However, the rejected Companies contended that they offered the same quality or better service at lesser cost and lost, and were informed in February 2019, through a letter from the Ministry of Interior.

According to Section 32 subsection 3 of the Gambia’s Public Procurement Authority Act, “the reason for rejecting all bids, and for cancelling procurement proceedings, shall be noted in the records of procurement proceedings and promptly communicated to the bidders.”

As a consequence, most of the Companies that participated in the bidding process wrote to the Gambia Government requesting explanation regarding why they were rejected. They also wrote to the National Assembly, the Office of the Secretary General and the Complaints Review Board among others, alleging unfairness and lack of observation of the provisions of the National Procurement Laws.

Owing to their protest letters, Government informed all the Companies that participated that the contract was put on hold. That it was after this information from Government that they began seeing advertisements on bill boards about the commencement of the contract by Comfort.

‘Tedungal’ Consultancy and Multimedia Company wrote to the Minister of Interior expressing their concern and dismay about the procedure in which the contract was awarded to Comfort Quality Services without observing what they called due process.

They claimed that they were the first to introduce ‘Tönnjes’, a German vehicle identification Company to the Gambia and entered into agreement with them. They claimed that Comfort hijacked their contract with the German Company as their manufacturer for number plates.

However, this contract between Comfort Quality Service and Tönnjes was since terminated and the main reason for the termination of the contract agreement between the two, according to them, was that Comfort Quality Service did not fulfill its promise for Tönnjes to manufacture the number plates for them.

In an exclusive interview with Foroyaa Newspaper, Omar Leigh of Tedungal Multimedia said their investigations revealed that Comfort has not been printing number plates which match the specifications in the bid document which breaches the express terms and conditions of the contract awarded to them.

SAMAR’T Gambia which is a subsidiary of SAMAR’T International, the world’s largest manufacturer of licensed plates based in Spain, also participated in the bidding process to print number plates.

Founded in 1942, SAMAR’T has manufacturing facilities in more than 12 countries, customers in over 40 countries and supply more than 12 million number plates worldwide annually.

When a formal proposal was sent to the Inspector General of Police for provision of number plates, SAMAR’T Gambia and a team including officers of the Gambia Police Force, visited their office in Spain in order to know their capabilities in this area. The Managing Director of SAMAR’T, Banta Njie along with the team comprising Abdoulie Sanyang, Demba Sowe and Ali Faye, were the ones who travelled to Spain where the aluminum plates were to be manufactured. Upon their return, a proposal was sent to the Ministry of Interior in respect of the said number plates, copied to the Inspector General of Police. However, after every effort to secure this bid, SAMAR’T were told on the 8th day of February 2020, that their bid was unsuccessful, but they requested for an explanation for such a decision and were not satisfied with the explanation provided by the authorities.

The Company is said to have made several attempts thereafter to engage the Ministry of Interior on the issue of the bid in futility.

In a letter dated 2nd July 2020 addressed to the Clerk of the National Assembly, Tendungal Multimedia and Consultancy services wrote that “the level of irregularities in this matter’’, was unimaginable and blamed some senior security officials of conniving with a business person to give their idea and concept to another Company which was also trying to win the same contract.

They are with the conviction that the QR Code that Comfort provides in the form of stickers, is not in line with standard security measures; adding anyone can peel off this sticker and tamper with the information on it. That unauthorized readers use of such information can lead to security issues in the event of a denial of service (DOS) resulting in attack or loss of data.

That world class standard has barcodes which are aligned or embed within the plates, and can only be read by secure and authorized readers, denying anyone the chance to tamper with the information.

Comfort Quality Services refuted all the allegations by the other companies.

“They didn’t have anything that can match what we offered. We had better product. We had better proposal,” the Managing Director told Foroyaa.

He explained the Government is benefiting from the contract without making expenses and they are also benefiting from it after incurring expenses unlike other companies who wanted the Government to invest in the contract.

He said they have provided the Government with a database which will last forever.

Director Ousman Njai described the allegations as baseless adding the Electronic Vehicle Management System is effective.

“We came up with the best package. We did our homework well. The Government is not putting in their resources – they are only benefitting,” Njai said.

Njai said the contract was tendered and there were criteria that each participating company was required to meet to be able to win the tender.

“At the end of the day, one company will be awarded the contract – everyone cannot be a winner – and it depends on what you come up with,” he said.

He said there was a complaint that was even made and the Complaint Review Board sat over it and decided that they were satisfied with what they (Comfort) presented.

He said the tender and the procurement process was 100% transparent.

He said the Gambia Government is not spending one butut in the project.

“The Government is benefiting from the contract. We presented the better offer that met all the specifications to the board and we were awarded the contract,” Njai said.

He said the requirement for the contract was to use a barcode, but Comfort is doing more by coming up with a QR Code which was better. He explained that a barcode does not contain enough information. He said the QR Code has information about the vehicle and the owner to help the police in their work.

“QR Code sticker is durable and is readable,” Njai said.

The Director of Operations said no one can tamper with the sticker and the information therein is programmed to help the traffic police officers in identifying vehicles.

“It validates the registration,” Njai said, adding “it is durable under the sunlight.” Njie said.

Njai said some of the companies raising issues of biasness did not meet the specifications needed for the contract, adding some of them came up with number plates from India and Sri Lanka.

“They failed to meet up the specifications for the contract. They wanted to buy and sell – they wanted the Government to give an advance payment. For us, we fully finance the project and the Government is benefiting from it,” Njai said.

Njai said D630 was offered for a pair while the other companies offered over five hundred for one number plate.

“Comfort had the cheapest offer and we submitted everything that was required during the tender,” he said.

He added: “We offered D315 for one plate. In fact, some of them had hidden expenses.”

He said the whole contract is 100% financed by Comfort and the Government is benefitting from it.

Njai said Comfort is the one purchasing the raw materials. Njai said the Government is gaining 43% from every plate and the process is quick and effective. He added that people get their plates in one day unlike the previous years when people have to wait for some time before getting their plates.

“People are now getting their plates in a day. We build, operate and transfer. We are bringing high quality number plates that you can find all over Europe,” he said.

Njai said the project will be transferred to the police after 4 years and the Government will continue to do the printing on their own.

“The Gambia Government is reaping the benefiting from a private investment,” Njai said.

He said Comfort were not in partnership with the German Company – Tönnjes, adding they only had a buy and sell relationship.

“We are free to buy from any company. We didn’t partner with Tönnjes. We invested our money and we can buy from anywhere as far as they meet the specifications needed,” Njai said.

He said Comfort did not hijack any partnership and were at liberty to trade with any company.

“There was not partnership. It was a business relation,” Njai said.

A police officer found working at the Kairaba Police Station said the process is very effective and it is actually making the work of traffic police easy. The police said they don’t want to make comments in the way the contract was awarded. The Police PRO was contacted to make comments, but he did not receive the call.

Three drivers, who were randomly interview on the Westfield-Tabokoto highway, said they are happy with the new number plate issuing process.

Writing to the Complaint’s Review, Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Interior Assan Tangara said they were referred to evaluate the applicant’s financial bid on its merit and for clarity and the following was required to be noted; “Comfort is offering in pairs with barcode stickers while SAMAR’T’ is offering in pieces – only one number plate (which shows SAMAR’T is offering half of Comfort’s offer), Comfort will fully pre-finance the whole investment while SAMAR’T’s understanding is government to purchase and this is why they are requesting for payment method and SAMAR’T’s offer has hidden cost.”

Moreover, Tanagar added, from the evaluation of the tenders, the contract committee realised that almost all bidders responded to the combined technical specifications (in writing), and this has compelled the committee to focus attention on the samples as a proof of ability of each bidder. In this regard, he said, the samples provided were perused critically and it became evident that Comfort Quality Services provided the exact samples which substantiated their write-up.

He added: “A key component of the specification as it goes with the number plate. Therefore, it is non-submission by any applicant means that the applicant does not meet the technical specification. Please note that is the sticker that will show the unique distinction between vehicles as the number plate can be transferable but the sticker is permanent once attached. Further, this means that each applicant was required to provide two items (aluminium number plate with encrypted barcode and self-destructive holographic sticker) and not either of the two.”

Regarding the sample number plates, Tangara further clarified that the samples perused were not within context as they requested for a sample model number plates for the Gambia and not that of other countries (India and Chile) and this all applicants complied with except SAMAR’T Gambia Company.  Therefore, the Committee could not establish whether the samples provided were produced by them, he noted.

“The Committee still holds on its decision that Comfort Quality Services is the most responsive bidder as per the specification and value for money,” Tangura concluded.

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