A Bhutan Postal Corporation Limited (BPCL) tender for 15 City buses worth Nu 44.6mn has run into controversy, with a bidder Samden Vehicles alleging that procurement rules were not followed.
The main allegation made by Samden Vehicles, a dealer of Tata Motors is that despite being the lowest bidder and meeting all technical specifications the tender committee disqualified the company.
Managing Director of Samden Vehicles, Kouenleg Gyeltshen said, “BPCL violated tender norms by asking for a photo of the bus after opening the bid documents. The photo was not required as per the tender documents.”
When the supplier could not give the committee the photo they wanted then Samden was disqualified.
A Bhutan Post procurement officer refuting the allegations claimed that they had strictly followed the 2009 Procurement rules and regulations issued by the Ministry of Finance.
However, officials at the Public Procurement and Policy division (PPPD) under the, MoF say, that in this case proper procedures was not followed by BPCL.
The PPPD is a special MoF division that drafted the 2009 Procurement rules and regulations and is considered the expert authority on the tendering rules.
According to the PPPD if any government corporation or agencies are inviting tenders then the concerned tendering committee cannot change or add any new conditions after the tender has either been opened or the dateline has passed.
An official from the PPPD said, “When new conditions were asked for, after the tender has been opened then it will definitely favor a specific bidder which is unlawful.”
After Samden was disqualified the tender was awarded to the next lowest bidder. Global Traders a local company known for supplying Chinese vehicles and buses in Bhutan got the tender to supply 11 large buses worth Nu 35.2mn while another company Ganjung which also has a driving school got the order for 4 medium sized buses worth Nu 9.4mn. The total price was Nu 44.6mn.
Kouenleg Gyeltshen said that in comparison his total price for the 15 buses which met all specifications was Nu 32.2mn which is cheaper by Nu 12.4mn.
Kouenleg Gyeltshen said, “If the tender documents I bought had mentioned that a specific picture was required then we would have provided it”.
The Managing director of BPCL, Tseten Geltsen accepted that BPCL did not mention the need to attach a picture in the tender document.
However, it was due to this change of requirements after the tender was opened that some bidders got rejected.
The BPCL managing director said, “The pictures some bidders provided were of low quality comparable to school bus models which are completely not viable”. He said while some other companies did provide the required pictures but they had to be rejected since the prices were not agreeable.
The Samden vehicles MD said that they assured BPCL they would supply the bus according to the specifications and the picture presented was just an illustration.
Bidders said that prior to the invitations of quotations a picture of a bus had already been approved by the Cabinet following a presentation made by the BPCL officials.
The managing director of the BPCL said that the picture was a sample design which met all the specifications stated in the tender document but that didn’t mean they were expecting the same brand.
However, bidders are more or less disappointed about the fact that the sample picture was not attached to the tender document earlier.
The MD of Samden vehicles said, “If having the right photo was so important then BPCL could have easily given an attachment of the picture approved by the cabinet along with the tender documents. This would have not-only informed us in advance but it would also have helped us in giving them the picture they wanted.”
The BPCL MD claimed that everything had gone according to the guidelines. He said initially a presentation was made to the finance ministry which subsequently released the budget requested by the BPCL under the terms that the buses should be Toyota city buses. But these buses he said were not procured as STCBL couldn’t agree on the requirements and so the general bidders had to be invited.
Other bidders like the STCBL, Toyota and GLT were rejected due to different reasons. The STCBL’s TATA general manager Dawa Lham in Thimphu said,” We didn’t go further on any issue since our price was higher compared to other bidders”.
A total of eight firms bought the tenders from which six submitted.
Meanwhile, a letter from the Tata Motors Office for ‘Bhutan and Nepal’ expresses ‘extreme disbelief’ that the tender was not awarded to Samden Motors given that they had the lowest quote and met all specifications. The letter also says that Tata motors is the only company in Bhutan that can deliver the buses in the specified time period of 3 months while other third country importers would take at least 4 to 5 months. The letter also says that Tata has an extensive set-up of workshops across Bhutan to service Tata vehicles and would have all the necessary spare parts required to maintain a City Bus fleet.
On any future course of action the Samden MD said first he wanted a reply from BPCL after which he would decide on certain steps. For now he said that he had approached some media houses.
The winning bidder declined to give any comments.