Paper wars: Inside Govt printing paper tenders

SHARE   |   Tuesday, 21 March 2017   |   By Phillimon Mmeso

Tenders for newsprint at Government Printers is said to be regarded as a preserve for the few, especially multinational companies. That hegemony was recently shattered when a tender was awarded to a citizen-owned company Netsprings.
Early this year Bond Free Investment trading as Paper4Africa wrote a letter to the tender committee at the Office of the President raising a concern on how the citizen-owned company were offered the tender when they didn’t have a letter of guarantee from the manufacturers as it was part of the requirements. The complaint by Paper4Africa which has been forwarded to Attorney General’s chambers is said to have exposed internal corruption at Government Printing. “If at all what Paper4Africa is saying is true that Netsprings have no letter of guarantee from the manufacturers, the question is how they knew about that?” said an officer at AG chambers who did not want to be named. According to the tender rules, the letter that Paper4Africa is talking about is not shared with the third party. Information gathered by this publication has revealed that Directorate of Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC) is now investigating how Paper4Africa is bale to have confidential information about tenders which they are not supposed to have. DCEC is said to be investigating if Paper4Africa has been having information even on tenders that they have won. Currently the company is supplying Government Printing with newsprints for 12 months at the tune of around P28 million. Sources at Government Printing have revealed that they were shocked when Paper4Africa Director Joseph Romesh Arjuna confronted them that Netspring was not supposed to be given the tender as they didn’t qualify.

The inside information
In an interview Paper4Africa Director Joseph Romesh Arjuna rebutted allegations that he was using some corrupt practices to get inside information on tenders. “I passed through Government Printing and saw Netspring trucks offloading paper rails and immediately contacted my partner in South Africa to check if their supplier was a manufacturer,” said Arjuna, adding that even the supplier admitted that he was not a manufacturer. He said that he then contacted Government Printing officials to lodge a complaint on how the tendering procedures were disregarded. Asked why he lodged a complaint on hearsay, the Paper4Africa Director said that he was sure about the information he got. “There is no transparency for tenders at Government Printing and too much corruption and have tried to report to DCEC to no avail,” he said. Last year a tender was cancelled as one of the big players in the industry submitted very late but won the contract, revealed Joseph Romesh Arjuna. Contacted for comment Netspring Operations Manager David Thomas said he was not aware that a complaint has been registered against their company. He refereed the enquiries to the Ministerial Tender Committee as he said that as far as he knows they complied with all the requirements.

The lucrative cake
Government Printers provides printing services to all Government ministries and departments. It also serves as a publisher and distributor of Government publications. The printing machine, which is located in Broadhurst, is one of the most advanced not only in Botswana but in Africa with a similar one owned by Al Ahram in Egypt. Since it started procuring printing papers, the tenders are said to have been controlled by the multinational companies but recently Batswana started partnering with some international companies to enter the lucrative market. Sources at Government Printers have revealed that it was difficult for locals to penetrate the industry as most of them were edged out by multinational companies who have connections at Government Enclave. The supply of paper for Daily News is said to be valued at an average of P30 million while for the various papers which are mostly used for printing Kutlwano magazine, Government Gazette and other official documents the value ranges between P10 million and P20 million.