Parliament. A two-year food deal worth more than Shs8b has kicked up a storm in Parliament and led to indefinite closure of the Parliament canteen.
The issue, which has since gone to court and the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets Authority (PPDA), has brought out details of the disputed bidding process covered in accusations of bribery, abuse of procedure and impunity.
Trouble started after Parliament’s evaluation committee chaired by Sergeant-at-Arms Ahmed Kagoye, dumped Hellenar’s Restaurant which had been providing catering services to MPs and staff for more than two years, and awarded the deal to a new company called Romeo’s Restaurant.
Hellenar’s Restaurant petitioned the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets Authority (PPDA) over the sudden change on August 14, 2018.
The director of Hellenar’s Restaurant, Mr Walter Anywar, also petitioned the clerk to Parliament on June 18, 2018 alleging bribery, bias and complained that the deal for MPs food was given to an inexperienced company. He said some members of the evaluation committee flouted the rules set out in Section 6 (c) (2) of the Open Bidding Document.
Ms Jane Kibirige, the clerk to Parliament, said all bidders lacked experience and downplayed the significance of the breach of rules.
In her August 9, 2018 response, Ms Kibirige admitted that both bidders had “proven shortfalls in experience” but blamed the complainant for discrediting the company Parliament picked to serve food in the House. She flatly dismissed the complaint for lack of merit.
She copied the letter to the Speaker, Ms Rebecca Kadaga, and other commissioners who later in September 2018 resolved to retain Hellenar’s Restaurant but only until December 31.
After Ms Kibirige rejected the request for administrative review, Hellenar’s Restaurant appealed to PPDA on August 14, 2018 and accused the clerk of bias and wrongly concluding that Hellenar’s Restaurant had no requisite experience.
“Experience is gained by practical job performance over time and by the size of financial credit or support,” the petitioner wrote to PPDA.
The petitioner says the Parliament’s evaluation committee and Ms Kibirige only relied on the “bidder that offered to give services at the lowest price but ignored other important considerations like qualification and experience.”
In the same petition, Mr Anywar claimed that Ms Kibirige determined the complaint on false assumption that his company had not paid fees (Shs5m) for administrative review.
Mr Anywar declined to comment on the matter when contacted at the weekend.
Although the Parliamentary Commission had in one of the meetings resolved that Hellenar’s Restaurant should continue providing services, the procurement of a new service provider was advertised in November 2017 before the two-year contract expired.
At least five companies submitted their bids and two (Hellenar and Romeo] were shortlisted. The rest were dropped.
However, following a split decision by Parliament’s evaluation team led by Mr Kagoye, they decided to retender the food deal. But the fresh bidding process also ended “prematurely” and instead gave Hellenar’s Restaurant a nine-month extension on a three-month basis. The extension ended on December 31, 2018.
In their protest, Hellenar’s Restaurant demanded an administrative review of the disputed procurement process, citing unfair treatment motivated by bias, failure to display the price list of the runner-up and Romeo’s alleged lack of experience as stipulated in the bid.
However, Ms Kibirige rejected the petition and the matter went to PPDA.
Ms Kibirige told the petitioner that she had perused the evaluation committee report and did not find any evidence of bias.
She said she had reached an inevitable conclusion that “the complaint is a figment of the unsuccessful bidder’s imagination.”
Hellenar’s Restaurant applied for judicial review of the bidding process and on December 21, 2018 court issued an injunction maintaining the status-quo at Parliament until the matter was disposed of.
However, Ms Kibirige has locked the restaurant and told Hellenar’s Restaurant to wait for conclusion of the court process.
Ms Kibirige yesterday confirmed the closure of the Parliament canteen.
“What you have heard is true (the closure of canteen). Do we need to stick to these two? Are there no other service providers that can take up this job?” she told Daily Monitor by telephone yesterday.
She, however, declined to comment on the prolonged procurement saga saying the matter is before court and it could be subjudice to discuss it.
Ms Kibirige, however, said in the meantime the MPs and staff will need to find alternative ways of getting food when Parliament resumes tomorrow from Christmas recess.
The food saga at Parliament has affected the 459 MPs, 500 Parliament staff and a number of visitors.
Leader of Opposition in Parliament, Ms Betty Aol Ocan, said the MPs will have been betrayed by the administration if they find the canteen closed tomorrow.
“The canteen makes it easier for us to discuss important issues before even going to the chambers. We come together not only for eating because we can discuss other issues while having a meal, tea or a drink. So, it will be disappointing to find the canteen closed,” Ms Ocan said.
She suggested an investigation into the behaviour of the officials in the Procurement and Disposal Unit of Parliament. Ms Ochan said the way they handle procurements is not proper, adding that her office already has similar queries with them.
Ms Kibirge said the MPs and staff are not too young to accept starvation. She urged them to find alternative sources of food as the matter is being resolved.
Efforts to get a comment from Mr Kagoye, the Sargent-at-Arms who chaired the evaluation committee that recommended Romeo Restaurant, were futile as his known telephone line was not available by press time. It was the same fate for Romeo Restaurant.
The bidder who was selected as the best, did not furnish any evidence to prove that he had the required qualifications. There was not a copy of the contract furnished to the committee to show that Romeo’s Restaurant had ever served to any institution with meals and beverages for two years and a minimum of 200 clients on a daily basis.