Squabble over City of Tshwane R70m tracking tender escalates

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Tshwane executive mayor Randall Williams.
Tshwane executive mayor Randall Williams.

The discord over a R70 million vehicle-tracking system contract, pitting the City of Tshwane against black-owned firms, has heightened, as the resentful bidders threaten legal action to halt the process.

The companies accuse the city of bias and deliberately creating an “evergreen arrangement” for international vehicle-tracking company C-Track.

The disgruntled firms initially raised a stink over the tender in January, which resulted in reissuing of the bid.

Due to fear of reprisal, the unhappy firms did not want to be named; however, the names are known to ITWeb.

The three-year tender for the supply, installation, monitoring and maintenance of a vehicle-tracking system was originally set to close in November 2020, but after the complaints, the city amended the bid slightly and reissued it on 14 June 2021.

Now, the unhappy black-owned firms say the closing date for current bids was set for 17 July, but this was also extended, without giving reasons, to 28 July 2021.

In documents seen by ITWeb, the firms accuse the city of deliberately excluding them from the procurement process through unfair bidding requirements.

The city has dismissed the allegation, saying it has a duty to guard against fruitless expenditure.

Among the requirements that irked the bidders is that in the event of landing the contact, the successful bidder must use C-Track devices and its technology platform.

They also claim C-Track, which is currently servicing the contract, was appointed without going to tender when the previous supplier was removed.

This, the companies claim in letters sent to the city, is anti-competitive as C-Track is also vying for the same contract, and this automatically gives it an unfair advantage.

“The requirements stated on pages 34 and 36 appear to be leaving potential bidding entities with no alternatives but to utilise C-Track’s devices and technology platform in cases where the supplier’s devices are not compatible to the specifications of C-Track.

“We would also like to object to the fact that in this case, companies are forced to use their competitor’s platform, whereby their base cost must also include C-Track’s bureau fees. This inevitably gives C-Track pricing advantage over the other suppliers,” reads one of the letters.

Further, it states: “This contradicts the principles of fairness, equity, transparency, competitiveness and cost-effectiveness, and is in conflict with Section 217(1) of the Constitution, Section 112(1) of the MFMA, the city’s own supply chain management policy. The said requirements are nullifying the requirements for competitive bidding because C-Track will remain the sole company in control of the pricing.

“The requirement also promotes anti-competitive behaviour and seems to create an evergreen arrangement for C-Track at the city, whereby whichever entity is successful, they will be a front for C-Track.”

According to the unhappy bidders, suppliers should be allowed to “aggressively propose newer technologies, efficient and cost-effective solutions” instead of being coerced to use “outdated technology” which they don’t have control over.

No retreat

In response, the City of Tshwane denies any wrongdoing. “Following the non-award of the previous bid, the city appointed C-Track on a MFMA Regulation 36 provision to appoint a service provider on an emergency basis to avoid disruption in services. C-Track was approached to be appointed on the basis of the company being the original equipment manufacturer of the devices,” states Jordan Griffiths, acting chief of staff for mayor Randall Williams.

Commenting on the allegation that bid requirements automatically give C-Track an unfair advantage, Griffiths says: “We do not know who the prospective bidders are. In many contracts around the world, original equipment manufacturers bid for contracts, including the ‘middle-man’ contractors, etc; this does not create any unfair advantage.

“The city has operated C-Track devices for years and in previous occasions the service was not delivered by C-Track. The case in point is the last two contracts. So, as it was for the previous years, the contract is open in the market for all service providers; however, the city must surely protect its rights and not place itself in a position where it incurs millions of fruitless expenditure.”

Furthermore, Griffiths says: “The fact is the city has bought over 3 500 devices and these are currently utilised on a daily basis. This investment cannot be dismissed. The city needs to ensure the tender has sufficient provision to ensure this investment is protected.

“Having a mismatch in the units currently in the environment and new devices will cause a crisis for the city, either in having to de-install all the current devices, costing millions of taxpayers’ money, or facing an eventuality of vehicles not being tracked, leading to risk of losses and repudiation of insurance.”

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