Something seems not to add up in the way a Malawian car hire firm, then with inadequate cars and no experience, was awarded a $100 188 contract for the Comesa Summit hosted by Lilongwe.
And although it is a legal requirement for car hire firms to register with the Road Traffic Directorate (RTD) and the Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife and Culture before operating, Dream Line Car Rentals did not fulfil these conditions during the duration of the contract.
It has also been learnt that the contract was awarded without an open-tender as expected.
Furthermore, the company was registered at the Registrar GeneralÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s office on March 10 2011 by a Lilongwe-based entrepreneur Dan Masina Chikhaula just three months before the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa) Secretariat started the process of recruiting service providers for the October 2011 Heads of State and Government Summit.
The company was, however, registered with the Office of the Director of Public Procurement (ODPP).
Chairperson of the transport sub-committee that was in-charge of such logistics, Jomo Mkandawire, who is director of transport services in the Ministry of Transport and Public Infrastructure, declined to shed some light on the questions and referred the matter to the Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC), who said they were not involved in the process.
RTD director Jacques ManongÃ¢â‚¬â„¢a, in an e-mailed response to a questionnaire dated December 20 2011, said his office could not find information on the registration of the company.
“We are unable to identify the details. This means it [Dream Line Car Rentals] may not be registered with us,” he said.
Proprietors of unregistered car hire firms, if found, are prosecuted. If convicted, they are fined or imprisoned for a period not exceeding three years or are both fined and imprisoned, according to RTD.
ManongÃ¢â‚¬â„¢a said for a company to be registered with the directorate, it must have at least five vehicles and proper office space.
The RTD also physically checks the vehicles to ensure they are roadworthy.
A Ministry of Transport and Public Infrastructure source claimed Dream Line Car Rentals “did not even have a vehicle or property” at the time it was awarded the contract.
The source said officers tasked to help the Comesa Secretariat to identify a car hire company were also expected to advertise the tender for prospective service providers to bid, but never did.
In an interview on Wednesday this week, Chikhaula said he was surprised the issue of his companyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s contract with Comesa has attracted a lot of suspicion.
He said he is aware there are people who have been following him even before he executed the deal.
“I will not comment because I do not know what people want from me,” said Chikhaula, who admitted his firm did not register with some authorities because it was a new company and was in the process of settling down.
Chikhaula also confirmed the company solicited vehicles from various individuals, including police officers and civil servants, and that he paid for all the vehicles that were used during the summit.
But he declined to take any more questions, especially on how he knew of and secured the contract.
Director of Tourism in the Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife and Culture, Isaac Katopola, said in an exclusive interview on December 21 2011 that records in his office showed that Dream Line Car Rentals was not registered as per requirements of the Tourism and Hotels Act Chapter 50.01.
“According to tourism regulations, car hire companies are supposed to register with the Department of Tourism because they form part of sub-sectors of the tourism industry,” said Katopola.
He said it is necessary that car hire companies register with the department because that is where any tourist with complaints goes and the information helps to follow up on several issues, including service delivery.
“Dream Line Car Rentals does not appear in our database,” said Katopola.
He said there are penalties for not registering with the department, but explained that they are yet to start imposing them after finalising some formalities.
ODPP public relations officer Mary Mbekeani said “our records show that Dream Line Car Rentals is registered with the ODPP.” She did not elaborate their process.
In 2007, Comesa developed guidelines for various logistical arrangements during such summits.
On transport, Article 11(a) of the guidelines reads: “The host government provides transport to the Heads of State and Government, coordinating ministers and ministers of Foreign Affairs.
“The secretariat meets the transport requirements for any other ministers and the rest of the delegates. The host will assist in identifying reliable and competitive car hire companies for the secretariat to select from.”
Comesa secretary general Sindiso Ngwenya said in a questionnaire interview on December 16 2011 that when a country has agreed to host the summit, the secretariat submits the guidelines to the hosting government.
“Specifically, if you refer to Article 11 (a), you will see that in procuring the services of car hire companies, the guidelines state that the host will assist in identifying reliable and competitive car hire companies for the secretariat to select from,” said Ngwenya.
He said the Comesa Secretariat provides the requirements to the governmentÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s organising committees and that countries use their own procurement procedures to identify a minimum of three service providers that are evaluated by the secretariat.
He also said officials from the secretariat came to Malawi last June and discussed with the local transport sub-committee on the need to identify a reputable car hire company to transport delegates during the summit.
“Yes, indeed, we can confirm that car hire services were provided by the company, Dream Line Car Rentals, during the summit. The transport sub-committee provided us with three quotations for car hire companies and this company was the most competitive,” said Ngwenya.
He said the Comesa Secretariat has paid Dream Line Car Rentals a full amount of $100 188.
When asked for comment on how the Malawi Government recommended the contract award to a company as new as Dream Line, relevant government officials pushed the matter to one another.
Principal Secretary (PS) for Transport and Public Infrastructure Radson Mwadiwa declined to comment, saying his ministry was not involved.
He referred the matter to his counterpart at the Ministry of Industry and Trade, PS Newby Kumwembe.
Kumwembe also declined to comment, saying his ministry was not involved in the procurement of services and that he did not even know the companies that provided such services.
Industry and Trade Minister John Bande said apart from providing some support, officials from his ministry were not directly involved in the sourcing of service providers such as car hire companies.
OPC PS Charles Msosa said in an interview on December 30 2011 that government was not involved in the procurement of fleet to be used during the summit.
“We are not aware what sort of arrangement was there between the transport sub-committee and the Comesa Secretariat. From government side, we used government fleet,” said Msosa.
He then referred the matter to Mkandawire of the Ministry of Transport.
When phoned on January 9 2012, Mkandawire, whom both Bande and Msosa said was in-charge of the transport sub-committee, declined to comment, saying he did everything during the Comesa summit on behalf of OPC and he said: “I am not OPC”, before cutting the line.