ECONOMYNEXT- State-run SriLankan Airlines had cancelled a tender for security scanners in 2014, changed specifications and entirely dropped others, leading to a firm previously ranked third to win the deal in the second attempt, a commission of inquiry heard.
Commercial Procurement Manager (Financial Analysis and Projects) Vageesha Fernando testified at a Presidential Commission of Inquiry into irregularities at the national carrier, providing documents on a tender for securities scanners.
The first tender for two baggage x-ray scanners and one heavy cargo x-ray, was called in December 2013, she said, where a company called Nimrod Systems (Pvt) Ltd won the technical evaluation round.
But the tender was cancelled before financial evaluation at the request of the security department
Fernando said that a second tender started in 2014 and awarded after a long delay was eventually awarded to Exel Trading International (Pvt) Ltd, which was ranked lower by a technical evaluation committee (TEC) in the first tender. It was the lowest bid.
She said that the security department had cited a missing Malaysian airliner, a possibility of a resurgent terrorism threat in northern Sri Lanka, and the need to adhere to European security standards as reasons for cancelling the first tender.
The security department was headed ex-military personnel.
Two new members, from the air force and the army, had been appointed to the second committee after then Chief Executive Kapila Chandrasena had written to the Ministry of Defence requesting additional members, Fernando said.
In the second tender, technical specifications were altered, Fernando said.
Nimrod Systems had applied with the same Rapiscan branded models for both tenders, while Exel Trading International had applied with the same Hiscan branded units, she said.
She said that the models Nimrod applied with were in an approved list for European security standards, according to documents related to the first tender.
Previous testimony from a Civil Aviation Authority official showed that scanners Exel Trading supplied had failed field tests under European standards.
In the first tender, x-rays had to be able to zoom between 2x and 48x when the scans were paused. Nimrod had scored 10 on the specification, compared to Exel not complying with a score of zero, she said.
However, Exel in its bid had said that it complied with the specification, even though the machine could only zoom up to 16x after which the image becomes unclear, Fernando said.
She said the committee had changed the specifications in the second tender to a zoom requirement of 8x when the scanner was paused and Exel Trading became compliant.
Similarly, Nimrod had scored highest with 10 points for humidity resilience in the first tender while Exel had not complied scoring 0 points, she said.
In the second tender, the specification was changed, and Exel complied with it, she said.
Similarly, for protection against dust and rodents, the size of the conveyer belt tunnel and a number of other specifications in the first tender, Nimrod had scored higher than Exel, which was mostly was non-compliant, Fernando said.
Specifications were changed in the second tender and Exel complied with the new requirements in all these cases, she said.
Some specifications, such as a past business relationship with SriLankan, and a hardware requirement for a ‘foot mat kit’ where Exel had scored poorly in the first tender were dropped in the second tender, she said.
"Isn’t it obvious that specifications have been changed to accommodate Exel?" Deputy Solicitor General ShanakaWijesinghe asked.
"I can’t comment on that. I don’t have the technical expertise," Fernando said.
She said that she doesn’t know why the technical evaluation committee changed the specifications.
Wijesinghe asked whether the technical specifications of the second tender should have been stricter, since it was called due to increased security threats.
“Someone with technical expertise should answer that,” Fernando said.
She said that she doesn’t have the technical expertise to judge whether the specifications in the second tender were lenient than the first tender.
She said that Exel had been awarded the second tender, as it had provided the lowest bid for the equipment after negotiations with all qualifying bidders. (COLOMBO, August 13, 2018).