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Questions over Tshwane’s R1bn smart city tender

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DA leaders want Tshwane mayor Stevens Mokgalapa to explain why the metro issued a R1 billion “smart city” tender apparently tailored to suit Chinese tech giant Huawei – while he was on a trip to China at the company's expense, reports the Sunday Times.

The report says while Mokgalapa and four of his officials were being wined and dined in China by Huawei, his officials back home were preparing a tender that information technology experts said will suit Huawei products.

According to Sunday Times, the tender row is not Mokgalapa’s first brush with DA leaders, who pride themselves on clean governance and hold the party as a model for the ANC to follow. The DA runs Tshwane in partnership with EFF.

It adds that Tshwane was gridlocked for three days at the end of July when workers were on strike in protest against the 18% salary increases granted to metro group and divisional heads.

The city eventually reached a R318 million settlement with the workers, later criticised by DA federal executive chair, James Selfe.

Although there is no indication that Mokgalapa personally benefited, the China trip has embarrassed the party’s national leaders and exposed it to criticism usually directed at free spending ANC mayors, the report says.

It notes that Selfe says the party only found out about Mokgalapa’s trip the day before he left. He said Mokgalapa had not obtained the requisite party approvals to travel, which is a violation of DA federal executive policy.

“I know nothing about the issuing of the contract. I know he went to China at the invitation of that company, but the requested approvals were not obtained from the party before he left. That is a matter we are in discussion about. He will have to provide an explanation,” Selfe said.

Sunday Times says Selfe will quiz Mokgalapa about the tender, because a mayor should not involve himself in procurement processes.

“I will take the matter up with the executive mayor and I will ask for the tender specifications. As you know, the executive mayor has nothing to do with the awarding of tenders,” Selfe said.

Mokgalapa was adamant that his trip to China will not influence who gets the tender.

His spokesperson, according to Sunday Times, Omogolo Taunyane, said: “As with all tenders, this one is open to the public, with any interested party being encouraged to apply. There is no intention to award Huawei this or any other tender as a result of mayor Mokgalapa’s recent trip.

“To link the mayor’s trip as an exchange of any gratuities or information pertaining to this tender is an erroneous and irresponsible insinuation to make.”

Taunyane said the party had never communicated its unease about the venture to the mayor.

“Whatever the party is unhappy about whatever the mayor is doing, they should communicate that to his office. We cannot respond to the party in the media,” she said.

An industry expert as well as a senior official said there was a risk that circumstances could compel local ICT firms bidding for the tender to buy the hardware from Huawei.

“The specifications are structured in a way where SMMEs will never make it past the compliance stage,” says the expert, who asked not to be named.

“Huawei is a multinational, it can’t bid for government contracts, but it’s probably screening potential partners. The big guys will always get preferential treatment so it’s pointless for the smaller guys.”

But Huawei strongly denies this, insisting that it has no business dealings with the City of Tshwane.

Huawei said in a statement that the purpose of the trip was to showcase its innovative ICT solutions to stakeholders.

“This practice is not uncommon in the competitive ICT sector,” it said. “Huawei prides itself on complying with local laws and regulations in all markets we operate in. Huawei’s code of business conduct prohibits any employees from undertaking any activities that breach any laws, or engage in unethical business practices.”

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