Bribery allegations delay works at Rubavu-Goma border post

Construction of the Rubavu-Goma one-stop border post which should have begun in April will, instead, start in October, officials at Rwanda Transport Development Agency (RTDA) say, but a Rwf200 million bribery scandal, The New Times has established, could be behind that delay.
Rwandans transact business at the Rubavu-Goma border post. (Timothy Kisambira)
Rwandans transact business at the Rubavu-Goma border post. (Timothy Kisambira)

Construction of the Rubavu-Goma one-stop border post which should have begun in April will, instead, start in October, officials at Rwanda Transport Development Agency (RTDA) say, but a Rwf200 million bribery scandal, The New Times has established, could be behind that delay.

The one-stop border post, which is supposed to link Rubavu town in Rwanda’s Western Province to Goma, the capital city of DR Congo’s North Kivu Province, is a hot spot for trade with daily traffic flows of close to 50,000 people generating millions of dollars annually.

Howard G. Buffet Foundation (HGBF), founded by American philanthropist Buffet, signed up to fund the project estimated to cost about $9 million.

At a ceremony on December 15, 2014, in Rubavu, HGBF chairman, Howard Buffet, laid the foundation stone to launch the project’s works, where the Government was represented by Christian Rwakunda, the permanent secretary at the Infrastructure Ministry.

The expected construction period was 18 months; the facility would have a main building to accommodate all custom related services, car parking, handling facilities, warehouses as well as a heavy trucks transit parking.

On completion, the facility is expected to significantly improve border-crossing efficiency, facilitate trade and cut down unnecessary costs due to duplication of operations.

L&F, a Kigali-based consultancy firm specialising in architectural services, was contracted to carry out studies and designs on the project, according to sources at RTDA. The company is managed by two partners, Lawrence Mwangi Gitau, a Kenyan national, and Florent Kayitare, a Rwandan.

The project’s study and designs are said to have been completed earlier this year and construction works should, according to RTDA, have started five months ago. Last month, RTDA director-general Guy Kalisa told The New Times that he expected works to start by September 15.

But another official with the agency coordinating the project’s implementation said on Friday that construction will start in October, meaning completion of the facility would be late in 2016.

Bribery claim

It has since emerged that the procurement process for a contractor to carry out the construction works was disrupted by bribery claims in which the front runner, Dongil Construction Ltd, a South Korean firm, was allegedly asked to pay a bribe of Rwf200m to secure the deal.

The New Times is in possession of a leaked voice recording of a conversation between two men; one is thought to be a representative of the Korean firm and the other alleged to be Lawrence Mwangi, the L&F Kenyan partner.

Dongil’s agent is believed to have made the recording with the purpose of getting the L&F officials on record soliciting for the alleged Rw200 million bribe.

In the recording, the man thought to be L&F’s representative is heard asking Dongil’s agent why ‘you refused to talk to my boss’, referring to his Rwandan partner Kayitare whose name is repeatedly mentioned in the recording.

In response, Dongil agent asks, ‘tell me, you and Kayitare, do you want to get 200 million?’

The man thought to be Mwangi then answers, “No. We just suggested something, you should have said something in response but you just disappeared sueeee! (laughs hard)…you should have talked to my boss.”

As the firm that did the studies and designs, L&F was also supposed to supervise the construction works by the contractor that would have won the tender to undertake the construction; as a result, the consultancy had a representative on the bids’ evaluation committee.

From the recorded conversation, it appears the request for the Rwf200m bribe was suggested earlier, allegedly by Kayitare who represented the consultancy firm on the procurement committee.

The dialogue on the leaked audio appears to be a follow-up; but before meeting, the Korean could have planned to record the entire exchange. His recording, which is three months old, has since caused a mess that had, until now, successfully remained masked from the public.

When asked about the recording, an RTDA top official confirmed to The New Time that he knew about it, but refused to comment further on its contents explaining that the Police were investigating the matter.

ACP Theo Badege, the commissioner for CID, confirmed the audio when contacted. “Yes we have the audio, we investigated and handed over our report to Prosecution, please ask them for details.”

Prosecutor General Richard Muhumuza said, last week, that the State is undertaking its own counter investigations into the case, but that the key suspect heard on the tape, L&F’s Lawrence Mwangi, who had initially been arrested has since been released on bail.

“We do not believe their freedom can interfere with our investigations; besides, bail is a suspect’s right,” said Muhumuza.

Both Kayitare and Mwangi declined to comment on the saga preferring to wait on the outcome of the investigation.

If Prosecution decides to pursue the matter, the suspects wouldl be prosecuted under Article 26 of the Penal Code regarding conspiracy to commit a felony or misdemeanor, in this case (attempted to solicit for a bribe).

On successful prosecution, the consultants could be jailed for two to five years for demanding or receiving illegal benefits in order to offer a service, according to Penal Code (Article 634).

However, the audio has already cost L&F its reputation and contracts. The firm’s supervisory role of the project has since been terminated and replaced by another consultancy firm, Landmark Ltd.

Korean firm Dongil has also been awarded the tender at a cost of Rwf5.1 billion, beating several other bidders that wanted the job, including two Chinese firms, one of which was allegedly L&F’s preferred candidate.

Dongil recently completed similar works on the Kagitumba one-stop border post and was also contracted to complete the construction the Police administrative complex in Kacyiru.

editorial@newtimes.co.rw

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Excerpts from leaked audio

L&F: (After small talk) so tell me, my project, you refused to talk with my boss?

Dongil: (Sighs briefly) what is your mind?

L&F: You must talk with my boss…

Dongil: Tell me, you and Kayitare, do you want to get 200million?

L&F: No. (Dongil interrupts: what’s your mind then, tell me) No-no, we said something and then you should have told us something but you just sueeee! (Laughs hard, alone)

Dongil: Mr. Kayitare told me our company {bid} 5.1bn, another company bid 4.7bn because they put 400million divided by two…he asked me {for}200million, 200million, me and my boss, we have been thinking, that’s too much big money, that’s real corruption,…what can we do?

L&F: (Laughs at Dongil with pity)…we are just making suggestions.

Dongil: (With a pleading voice) anyway, tell me, what’s your real mind, you and Kayitare?

L&F: Me I have no real mind...I just wanted to know whether you can talk, of course…that was just the starting point, you know you start from somewhere before you go down, so, what do you think; what can you give to my boss?

Dongil: You mean from 200 million?

(L&F interrupts: No, forget about that…)

Dongil: (Sighs loudly after ten seconds silence) we are talking about it, with Mr. Song, he’s my boss, from 200million…

L&F: Forget about 200million, we were just talking to see if you can talk but we thought you don’t want to talk; we can say we want this and then you say no and suggest…

Dongil: Another issue, you told me he has endorsed another company, now he’s asking my company some charges, huh?

L&F: He wanted to, yes, but I am still the boss…he wanted these other guys {Chinese company) but I told him you are my friends, then he said ‘if you can talk to them nicely, talk to them.’

Dongil: Mr. Kayitare, what is his problem with Dongil?

L&F: There’s no problem with him. His only problem is that you are my friends and you don’t want to talk. (But Dongil insists that there must be some kind of problem, between them and Kayitare).

 

 

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