Mabye it's the wind. Perhaps all that salty air does something to the people who live there. But the windy city certainly has the rest of us bemused. This week we hear that the Port Elizabeth magistrate's courts are in chaos with no chief magistrate and attempts to appoint someone having come unstuck.
There's nasty litigation about who should get the job - the acting incumbent or the candidate approved by the Minister of Justice - and a local newspaper reports that infighting over the issue has been causing problems for more than a year. Meanwhile the municipality is in similar turmoil, at least as far as its handling of tenders is concerned.
It's hard to believe this, but a company that submitted a tender in April 2009 and was later awarded the job is involved in a bizarre court case to establish whether it has the job or not.
A decision handed down by Judge Bonisile Sandi a few days ago will leave readers concerned about the sanity of the city's officials. Judge Sandi granted the company, Monoceros Trading, a special order under access to information legislation, in terms of which the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality (Port Elizabeth) must hand over all the documents relevant to its decisions on the tender.
The company tendered to provide security services when the existing tender ran out on September 7, 2009, and submitted its bid well before the closing date of May 7, 2009. But it wasn't until January 5, 2010 (eight months after the closing date and four months after the previous contract expired) that Monoceros discovered the outcome of its bid. During a meeting with the municipality's security director, company officials were given a letter to the effect that Monoceros had the job.
Everything seemed to have been sorted out, even if rather belatedly. But wait, what's this? Eight days later comes another letter from the municipality, withdrawing the previous letter. Notification that the company had won the tender had been sent out too soon, said this communication. Monoceros would be advised of the real outcome in due course. Three months later, when there had still been no word from the municipality, the company went to court. On May 6 the municipality was given 14 days to decide who had won the tender and tell Monoceros the outcome.
However, on the day the court made its order the company obtained important documents which showed there had been an initial glitch in the process while the bid adjudication committee obtained “clarity on the specifications”, but that the committee had then awarded the tender to Monoceros on December 14, 2009.
So why, you may well ask, was the company never informed of the decision? And when the matter went to litigation four months later, why did no one simply tell company and the court that Monoceros had the job? Instead, apparently to conform to the May 6 court order, the municipal manager referred the matter back to the bid committee to decide within the 14-day deadline.
That fortnight came and went and no decision was communicated to Monoceros (even though the decision had already been made the previous December). So eventually, in June, the company asked the municipality for all the minutes, correspondence and other documents relating to the tender decision process. The municipality's attorneys acknowledged receiving this letter and undertook to get back to Monoceros, something “which has not been done to this day”, comments the judge, with what sounds like a touch of weariness. Given continuing municipal silence the company still didn't know whether it would be required to do the job for which it had tendered, so Monoceros headed back to court.
This time the municipality tried to persuade the judge and the company that there was no need for a court order and that Monoceros should be satisfied with an “undertaking” that the information would be forthcoming. Both the company and Judge Sandi were understandably dubious, and the court has now ordered the municipality to provide all documents relating to the tender decision within five days.
It struck me, as I considered this extraordinary story, that we should look with new eyes at tenderpreneurs, those business people who make ethically questionable fortunes from tenders.
Either they have more patience than the average tenderer, or they have ways and means of getting answers that the rest of us, including the courts, just don't know about.