KIGALI - Commerce Minister Protais Mitali has admitted that he breached tendering procedures in the now controversial procurement of four million litres of fuel from Kenya early last year. Mitali who addressed a press conference yesterday at Alpha Palace Hotel said the decision to source for a supplier from Kenya without due respect of the law governing public tenders was taken out of frustration and desperation to stop a breakdown of the country’s transport system.
“I take responsibility for the decision we made that time which was purely in good faith to avoid a crisis. Given the situation we were dealing with (at the time), it was not possible to sit back and wait for the normal tendering process, which would have taken not less than two months,” Mitali said.
He was reacting on investigations into the multibillion tender which he is accused of commissioning without the blessing of the National Tender Board (NTB).
The questionable deal to Dalbit Petroleum Ltd, a Kenyan company, has seen CID and the office of the Prosecutor General interrogating Mitali, his predecessor James Musoni (now Finance minister) and other officials.
The tender is valued at $ 2, 942, 606 (about Frw1, 618, 433, 300).
The required fuel was originally 10 million litres but was later scaled down after the government received a fuel grant from the Japanese government.
The direct procurement process was started by James Musoni (now Finance Minister) but sealed by Mitali with Dalbit delivering the product in three installments – in May, June and July, last year.
Mitali explained that the ministry contacted Rwandan Ambassador to Kenya Bill Kayonga after a local petroleum company, GAPCO, failed to supply the required volumes of fuel.
“The National Tender Board had already conducted the process but after awarding the tender to GAPCO, the company said it had no fuel to supply.
It was out of that frustration that we (Commerce ministry) started to look for any company with capacity to give us fuel.
“That is how we ended up contacting our Ambassador in Kenya, who in return connected us to Dalbit,” he explained.
He added: “Even if the same (situation) happened today, I would still use all possible ways to avoid a crisis, although I would now do it differently. I wouldn’t repeat exactly what was committed at that time.”
He said that the previous public procurement law had rigidities, adding that the new law was flexible.
“NTB officials will always tell you how they will not conduct a tender outside the confines of the law. And therefore given the rigidities of the law that was being applied at the time, it would have been terrible for us to start another tendering process,” he said.
The old law required public institutions to conduct extremely urgent tenders beyond their stated thresholds after acquiring a non objection from NTB, the new one prohibits any government agency from handling tenders outside their mandates, including those considered very urgent.
The new law provides room for NTB to give special attention to tenders for emergency situations.
Critics have also questioned circumstances under which the said fuel crisis had come about, although both Mitali and Musoni attribute it to small storage facilities and shortages at Eldoret port in Kenya.
Whereas Mitali is also blamed for not informing the Cabinet before signing the fuel contact, it would still have amounted to breach of law for the latter to authorise a tender without the approval of the NTB.
Sources say the Cabinet acted contrary to the law whenever it awarded tenders. Until recently, the Cabinet was in the habit of awarding tenders that have not been processed through NTB.
Mitali, who is also accused of bribing voters to become the president of the Liberal Party (PL) – he was elected on August 5, beating MP Polycarpe Gatete – said he didn’t sanction the fuel deal unilaterally.
“There were certainly other various people and organs involved in this procurement,” he said. Mitali, a lawyer by profession, refrained from heaping blame on anybody, including Musoni, although the latter started the process as the minister of commerce then.
The minister’s public statement comes days after the Prosecutor General Martin Ngoga said that he asked Auditor General Evelyn Mukamagaju’s office to audit the management of country’s fuel strategic reserves. The AG is expected to give a report next week.