For many people active in the tenders sector, the last number of months may have been a bad omen of sorts. There has been an unprecedented wave of tender cancellations particularly to do with government related tenders.
Just last week the Herald newspaper reported that Cabinet had approved the cancellation of six tenders associated with the Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation (ZMDC).
Also coming down the pipeline was mobile network operator, NetOne, communicating a decision to bidders to cancel a multi-million US dollar tender for the procurement of sponsorship soccer kits.
Earlier in January this year, the Zimbabwe Electricity Transmission and Distribution Company (ZETDC) wrote to all bidders advising them of the parastatal’s decision to cancel a lucrative tender for the supply of drones.
A month or two before this, ZETDC had also cancelled another multi-million dollar tender for the supply of thousands of electricity grid transformers.
What was the drones tender exactly about?
In June last year, ZETDC put out a procurement tender in newspapers inviting bidders to supply industrial grade enterprise drones.
The official tender document that was made available to all interested parties read…
the Enterprise Drone of superior quality is required for use in ZETDC network for inspection and imaging of ZETDC lines and equipment. The material shall be new and of latest design and conform to the best engineering practices adopted in the field.
According to information gathered, ZETDC wanted to use the initial 14 drones in the tender to venture into remote powerline inspections utilising drone technology.
Tender specs for the drone type required was detailed, to the point and very strict.
Qualifying drones would have optical zoom capable visual and thermal imaging cameras. Thermal imaging camera technology would be instrumental in powerline inspections, in particular, as it is effective in spotting heat loss. For this reason, It is also used in rescue missions for missing or trapped live subjects.
One of the major difficulties associated with live powerline inspections using drones is electromagnetic interference. ZETDC would only accept drones that are resistant to this interference and other powerline related interferences.
Electromagnetic interference has potential to confuse onboard drone compass making it virtually impossible for the pilot to maintain effective command of the aircraft.
This requirement disqualifies just about all the drones currently being imported into the country.
Rightly so, ZETDC’s plan to use drone technology was seen as very progressive. It was consistent with global trends within the energy industry itself. One of the cutting edge global makers of enterprise drones – DJI – of China was among the first movers in this niche. It has been promoting enterprise drones for this purpose as shown in this video here:
What could have gone wrong with the ZETDC tender?
All in all, some nearly 10 bidders took part in the tender which included some very reputable suppliers of such technology around the world.
At ZETDC, it’s officially thought that bidders failed to meet the tough specifications around the drone camera requirements.
A meticulous check of the required camera specs as contained in the tender document shows that even global leading lights in the field do not have cameras matching the bizarre ZETDC specs.
These leading billion dollar innovators have powerline inspection drone technology firmly deployed in vast and more complex powerline projects across the world.
Public sector procurement is changing in Zimbabwe
There are some changes happening around how government and government owned companies can buy stuff. The regulator of public procurement has changed from being called the State Procurement Board to being the Procurement Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (PRAZ).
The outfit has new leadership and new teeth. Some top officials including the Director General of POTRAZ have been in trouble with the law as a result of procurement. Cabinet ministers can now face jail time for ignoring these regulations. This could be causing government entities to hesitate on buying goods and services.
The new procurement regulations have been lauded by the World Bank and other authorities as progressive and a good step in fighting corruption.
Corruption fighting itself is seeing some changes. The Zimbabwe Anti Corruption Commission was dissolved for not being effective and parliament is currently looking for replacements. Zimbabwe has a new Prosecutor General too. All these could be perceived as scary by parastatals and they would rather cancel tenders than be found wanting on their buying procedures.
Maybe this is closer to the truth
Of course this is now speculation but it makes a lot of sense. ZETDC probably did not tell bidders the real reason they cancelled the tender. We hope that the real reason is a noble one, they want to start over on a clean slate and improve on their procurement process.
If so, the truth would have been better than an excuse. Preparing these kinds of bids takes a lot of time and resources: months and thousands of dollars. Respecting bidders would be the least the power company could do and truth is respectful.
But then again, maybe ZESA is simply not impressed by the current state of drone technology….
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