The Railways Department’s effort to procure 200 sets of colour lights, to be installed in unprotected railway crossings, from a company which has not even fulfilled the basic requirements has become the topic of discussion today.
When tenders were called for the procurement of sets of colour lights, five companies, both local and foreign, offered their bids. Casting away all these prospective tenders that fulfilled the required criteria, an unfitting company which failed to even meet the basics is to be granted the tender at the behest of a senior official of the Transport and Civil Aviation Ministry, according to the needs of another senior official in the ministry.
It is noted that among some 1,213 railway crossings in the country, 758 remain unprotected. As this has always been a major concern of the Railways Department, tenders were called in November 2011 for the purchasing of colour lights, in a bid to curb unfortunate accidents.
By tender identified as S R S /N 6919 bids were called and 12 companies, both local and foreign, submitted. The tender board, appointed by the Railways Department that examined the bids, selected three quotations from these companies, and in the process rejected the entire tender of one company that did not make up to their expectations, the railway workers said.
Later, when tenders were called under Tender No S R S / N 7089 in September 2015, five suppliers quoted, of which only one company was local. Accordingly, a Technical Evaluation Committee headed by A.T.L. Palitha Samarasinghe, the head of the signals unit of the Railways Department, was appointed. It was entrusted with the duty of identifying a supplier capable of handling the project whilst adhering to set standards and maintaining high quality.
Though the Railways Department was responsible to select a company for this purpose, an unsuitable firm which had not been identified by the Technical Evaluation Committee has been chosen as the supplier. The railway workers maintain that this same company was entrusted with the installation of CCTV cameras at Colombo Fort and Maradana railway stations in 2012, and that it failed to do a good job. However, the official responsible for allocating this tender had again attempted to interfere for the procurement of sets of colour lights. With his transfer from the department, it saved them from allocating the tender to the same company. It was also learnt that this establishment had not qualified the first stage of the uninterrupted security certificate classification.
It is, however, strange that the report of the technical committee had been misplaced. With the change of government, the official who made a frantic effort to secure the bid for the already-rejected company had now returned, and is in a better place and seems to be leaving no stone unturned in his latest endeavour to obtain the tender for his friendly company.
When inquiries were made as to how this company was selected for the project, an official who wished to remain anonymous said: “this is a contract involving billions of rupees. When we called for tenders, we insisted that the bidders comply with six requirements. But, it appears that the Transport Ministry has been bias in selecting a nonentity company for the execution of this high-security undertaking. When questioned them on this concern, they said: “the project was given to a local company and therefore other conditions did not arise in the case. As this is to provide security for the public, we wonder who will be answerable in case of destruction caused to human lives. Moreover, in the quotations, the selected supplier had submitted the FOB price as USD 6,478,190, and in addition, stated CFR USD 8,032,955. This is surprising. If the preferred company is a local one, then why is payment quoted in dollar terms, and why does it include a shipping cost. Therefore, serious concerns have surfaced in the minds of everyone about whose pocket is going to be filled ultimately. This issue is well-known to the Chief Engineer of the signals section of the Railways Department.”
When encountered J.I.D. Jayasundera, the Chief Engineer of the signals section, he said he was unable to comment on this matter without the consent of the Ministry Secretary. Meanwhile, Piyal Fernando, the Chief of the Final Technical Committee entrusted with the task of evaluating the tender and suitability of the chosen supplier, said their recommendations had been handed over to the General Manager of Railways and therefore they were unable to say anything regarding this issue.
Our attempts to contact the General Manager of Railways on his office telephone number 0112187233 was unsuccessful, and after we disclosed that we represented the Daily Mirror and Lankadeepa newspapers, his secretary responded saying he was at a meeting. Even our final effort to contact the minister-in-charge Nimal Siripala de Silva failed as the telephone lines were faulty.
At a time when the present government is committed to wiping out frauds and acts of corruption, this large-scale scam carried out with the connivance of senior officials at the Transport Ministry is surely going to affect the ‘Yahapalanaya’ government with their cherished ambitions being severely shattered by these unscrupulous bureaucrats.