Battle for survival for companies eyeing ballot printing deal

Before the advent of multi-party elections in Kenya, ballot papers used to be printed by the Government Printer in Nairobi.

It is essentially a battle for our billions — and this week we have witnessed a bare knuckle fight by politicians on who will essentially print the ballot for the next General Election.

Politicians are telling us that it is an issue of credibility — and they could be right; and they could be wrong, too. It all depends on who you ask.

The battle seems to have now narrowed on to two companies — South Africa’s Paarl Media and Dubai’s Al Ghurair.

So far, Al Ghurair seems to have an upper hand since they have a signed contract with the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) which says they won’t cancel.

It is also the battle for survival for the separate companies and this Kenyan tender is certainly going to make a big difference in their books.

COMPLEX COMPANY

Let us take Paarl Media, for instance.

This is a very complex company in terms of shareholding and layering.

It is currently going through some merger headaches with Media24, a subsidiary, intending to acquire Naspers Holding, which is actually its holding company!

READ: Ballot printing companies had tender war in Zambia

This is because Media24 owns the operational printing business of the Naspers Group through its shareholding in a company known as Novus, which controls several firms including Paarl Media Holdings; Paarl Media; and Print Media Paarl.

It is Paarl Media which was seeking the Kenyan tender.

ARCHITECTS OF APARTHEID

For historians, Nasper is well known in South Africa because it is associated with the architects of apartheid – D. F. Malan, H. F. Verwoerd and P. W. Botha and it was in 2015 forced to issue a public apology to the victims and survivors of the apartheid system.

It however currently dominates dominates the media landscape in South Africa through its Media24, City Press, Daily Sun, Die Burger, Rapport, News24 and Multichoice (DSTV), People’s Post and the printing presses under Novus.

In its current audited accounts, its parent company Novus Holdings reports that it had a 12.2 per cent drop in the year ending March 2017, and was forced to close down its printing press at Paarl, a Western Cape province town where it derives its name from — and regarded as the third oldest European settlement in South Africa.

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Paarl is now operating two printing presses in Kwa Zulu Natal and Cape Town and intends to sell the property at Paarl next year, a sign of the kind of challenge that it has been facing. That could inform its brazen fight for the Kenyan tender.

TENDERPRENEUR

In Kenya, the company is represented by Dr Shailesh Patel, a well-known tenderpreneur who is also the Chief Executive Officer of Africa Infrastructure Development Company.

How do we know this?

Dr Patel, a pharmacist, is the son of Nataverbhai Patel, the founder of Anpi Pharma which was in the 1970s and 80s a constant name in the ministry of Health tender for drugs.

But Dr Patel, in April 1989, had his practicing as a pharmacist cancelled “in public interest” in the Kenya gazette notice No 1911 together with the company.

But he seems to have managed to spring back and became an agent for various international companies raking good profits for himself.

And that is the man whose name was mentioned by Jubilee politicos miffed that Mr Raila Odinga had questioned the manner in which the Dubai firm had received the ballot printing tender.

JUBILEE MANDRAINS

On their part, the Jubilee mandarins said, without making any effort to substantiate, that Dr Patel was a friend of Mr Odinga.

It is a question that I have asked Dr Patel but had not answered by the time of writing this.

What we know from various tender documents and cases he has lodged — it appears he is a perennial fighter and does not take “No” for an answer.

And that could annoy other tenderpreneurs eager for a smooth ride in the business for billions.

Since 2012, the said Dr Patel has been running his company, Africa Infrastructure Development Company, which ahead of the last General Election dragged IEBC to the Public Procurement Administrative Review Board after the company he represented failed to get a tender to procure some services during the election.

SUPPLY SOLAR LANTERNS

He also wanted to supply Solar Lanterns, Indelible marker Pens, Tallying Centre Printer and polling Station Banners.

He would tell the Board the tender was flawed and it emerged he was acting on behalf of South Africa’s Lithotech to provide satellite phones.

But its bid had been knocked out on stage one for failing to provide a bid bond, registration documents and audited accounts.

Busia County gubernatorial aspirant Sospeter Ojaamong casts his ballot at Township polling station in 2013. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Busia County gubernatorial aspirant Sospeter Ojaamong casts his ballot at Township polling station in 2013. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

While Mr Patel had wanted the entire tender to be cancelled, the board was however unable to annul it although it said Dr Patel had a genuine case.

What we also know is that Dr Patel and has also been an agent of Zhongman Petroleum and fought bitter court battles with Kengen over the Sh3 billion geothermal tenders.

At that time, Ms Kethi Kilonzo was Zhongman’s lawyer against a Chinese company, Shengli Oilfields Highland Petroleum and Equipment Company, which had been awarded a tender to supply two electric land rigs for drilling of geothermal wells at Olkaria I and IV. Enough of Dr Patel and Paarl Media.

PRINTING FIRM

The Dubai company which was given the tender was founded by the now 93-year old billionaire Saif Ahmed Al Ghurair — the man who lost his eye during a trip to India and there has been confusion locally on which company owns the printing firm.

What we know is that Saif’s brother owns Al Ghurair Investment LLC and Abdulla Al Ghurair Group of Companies which is a consumer goods, manufacturing and construction industry.

The man who came as the chairman of Dubai Chamber of Commerce Majid Saif Al Ghurair is a member of this family which used to own Dubai Bank before it was taken over by the government.

Is he associated with the printing arm of the business? It again depends on who you ask.

PRIVATE MEETING

What we know is that he was accompanied to State House by Kiprono Kittony, the chairman of the Kenya National Chamber of Commerce.

Mr Kittony says there was no private meeting held to discuss any tender business as alleged by the opposition.

But that has not silenced critics of Al Ghurair whose general manager Lakshmanan Ganapathy says that if Majid met President Kenyatta “it would be purely an intergovernmental bilateral relationship building exercise in his position as Chairman of Dubai Chamber and it has no connection with the ballot paper project.”

Al Ghurair has been conducting election in parts of volatile Africa — thanks to contracts with UNDP.

In Zambia, it went through similar storms like those in Kenya when it was accused of working closely with the government of President Edgar Lungu.

MAIN BATTLE

In all these, the main battle is about who gets the tender.

It was then that British firm Smith and Wiseman was awarded the tender for the 1992 and 1997 elections.

Parliament would later be told that samples of election ballots found their way to the Government Printer which did “identical ballot papers” according to then Nyeri Town MP Wanyiri Kihoro.

That matter was supposed to be canvased during the petition case of Mwai Kibaki vs Daniel arap Moi but the case was thrown out before the facts were laid out.

Attorney General, Amos Wako dismissed Mr Kihoro’s claims saying: “If Mr Kihoro had a firm that could undertake this work, he should have submitted application forms because the tender was advertised.”

MULTI-BILLION TENDERS

Perhaps to illustrate how these multi-billion tenders attract the high and mighty, let us look at the currency printing in this country because the story of the currency is perhaps more juicier.

For many years, De la Rue was the sole printer of the British colony currency and even after independence it continued to print our money.

That was not until British billionaire Tiny Rowland of Lonhro conglomerate thought there was some big business there. Rowland, who had just appointed Mark0

oo as his local chairman, bought controlling shares in a security printing company, Harrison and Sons, which was given a tender to print the Sh50 note in the 1980s.

This was the only Kenyan note that had not been printed by De La Rue.

BECAME CONTROVERSIAL

But the note became controversial after there were rumours that one of its watermarks was a snake around President Moi’s portrait.

It was withdrawn and Rowland had to sell his company to De La Rue in 1997.

De La Rue had also faced political tests in Kenya after Mwai Kibaki won the presidency.

On March 14, 2002, Kibaki pulled a trigger on British interests by ordering Finance minister, David Mwiraria and the newly-appointed Governor of Central Bank Dr Andrew Mullei to cancel a ten-year multi-billion shilling currency printing tender that had been awarded to British company De la Rue by former Governor Nahashon Nyaga without tendering.

The tender had been awarded at the tail-end of President Moi’s rule and key elements in State House were mentioned as the agents.

ANGLO-LEASING SCANDAL

If you look at the Anglo-Leasing scandal, you find that it initially revolved around the printing of passports.

When the initial passport printing tender was floated, five firms were invited.

READ: Greed and lies in battle for electoral body’s ballot tender

They were De la Rue Identity Systems (UK), AIT International PLC (UK), Face Technologies (South Africa), Setec OY (Finland), and Johannes Enschede (Netherlands).

We are usually told that only three responded with a quoted price of Sh622 million, but the tender was not awarded after the Department of Immigration sought to procure the system in the 2002/2003 financial year with some modifications.

POLITICALLY CORRECT COMPANY

That was one way of making sure only the politically correct company won the tender.

Thus, the first tender was rejected and, following “consultations” between the Government Information Technology Service (GITS) and the Department of Immigration, an expensive system never designed anywhere in the world was set for purchase.

The problem was there was no funding for this.

READ: Ballot papers debate, corruption dominate Twitter conversation

It was then that, on April 1, 2003, a firm known as Anglo Leasing and Finance Ltd delivered an unsolicited technical proposal to the Office of the Vice-President and Ministry of Home Affairs for the supply and installation of an immigration security document control system.

ANGLO LEASING

In its submissions, Anglo Leasing sub-contracted a French company, Francois-Charles Oberthur Fiduciaire, to instal the system while it would finance the project.

The “unsolicited” technical proposal fit the requirements that a ministerial committee had come up with, implying that they must have been privy to the deliberations.

When it came to signing the deal, the ministries entered into contracts without the approval of the Attorney General’s office.

The latter was only asked to “comment”, and when it came to making payments, the government appeared not to have known the identity of the person it was paying.

PERMANENT SECRETARY

After he was appointed permanent secretary for ethics, John Githongo started investigating some of these payments and unearthed an intriguing web of deceit and looting. He came under fire from some of those he had started investigating.

The rest is history. Githongo fled the country amidst fears for his life and in April 2004 then Ntonyiri MP Maoka Maore of Kanu tabled the Anglo Leasing and Finance Company documents before Parliament.

He told the House the company had been paid a commitment fee of three per cent.

Printing, as we have come to know, is usually a big scandal. It is usually a matter of various stakes. On ballot papers, the scandal is on the small print — agent fee.

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