One of the six companies contracted by the Uganda National Bureau of Standards (UNBS) to provide Pre-Export Verification of Conformity (PVoC) services has come under scrutiny.
The Committee on Tourism, Trade, and Industry noted that Helmsman Quality & Technology Services Ltd (HQTS), the Chinese-based company in question is a ‘briefcase’ company with no physical address and established staff.
This came to light during a committee meeting with a delegation from UNBS led by the Executive Director, David Livingstone Ebiru on Monday, 17 July 2023.
The deputy committee chairperson, Hon. Catherine Lamwaka, said that their observations were made during their recent oversight visit to India and Dubai where the companies are domiciled.
Upon their visit, the committee observed that HQTS did not have an established physical address in Dubai as presented in the bidding documents.
“When we visited HQTS, we found only two people who seemed to have traveled from China. Even the office seemed hired just to meet us and yet they told us they have been around for years,” Hon. David Isabirye (FDC, Jinja North Division) said.
He added that the staff they found at the said office did not even know where the laboratory or even toilets were located. “It took them more than two hours to locate and lead us to their laboratory………none of the staff even knew where the lavatories are,” he said.
Hon. Geoffrey Kayemba (NUP, Bukomansimbi South County) said their oversight visit unearthed flaws that indict UNBS for not conducting due diligence on the firms before awarding them the three-year contracts which commenced in March 2023.
“It is visible that HQTS is a fake company. UNBS should be accountable for it for not doing a good background check before awarding the contract,” Kayemba said, adding that the contracts committee and procurement officer should be answerable.
Martin Imalingat, a member of the Evaluation Committee and, also Manager of Imports Inspection, at UNBS, concurred with the committee observations that indeed HQTS did not have an office in Dubai.
“In our evaluation report, we indeed noted that HQTS did not have a physical office and therefore, recommended that the contract is not awarded to them,” Imalingat said.
Richard Babalanda, the Head of Procurement, UNBS said whereas they noted that the said company did not have an office, they acted on the advice of their legal team which provided a legal interpretation that ‘proved’ that HQTS has a physical address and thus, fit for the contract award.
Asked about the ramifications of terminating HQTS’ contract, Ebiru said the termination clause is based on the performance of the company which can only be established during the annual performance audit.
“Four months now may be a challenge to demonstrate that the company has failed to perform. But we shall consult the Solicitor General if we can terminate on reason not based on performance,” he said.
Hon. Lamwaka, who chaired the meeting, tasked UNBS leadership to furnish the committee with the reports of the contracts and evaluation committee and minutes of the procurement officer, advising the contracts committee not to award the contract to HQTS.
The other companies that were contracted by UNBS to inspect and verify goods as required by World Trade Organisation are; Bureau Veritas Uganda, Intertek International Limited, and Quality Inspections, and Services Inc. Japan, TUV Rheinland Middle East and Societe General Desurveilance.