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UN Changed Darfur Request for Proposals, Leaked E-mails Show, To Track French Amendments

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: News Analysis

UNITED NATIONS, March 3 -- Three weeks after the UN had promulgated a formal Request for Proposals for a large contract in Sudan's Darfur region, a counselor at France's mission to the UN e-mailed to the head of the UN's Procurement Service to suggest amendments to the RFP, to change the criteria of which companies would be eligible. France proposed lowering the required size of previously completed projects, and including not only peacekeeping projects, but any in "austere field environments."

   A mere three days later, the UN accepted the French amendments, substituting the phrase "hardship area" for France's "austere field environments," the chief of the Procurement Service acknowledged Monday to Inner City Press, asking that the e-mails not be published and demanding to know who had leaked them. The chain of events raises questions about whether other countries have similar access, and about the UN's acceptance of investigative reporting on its business dealings, particularly with countries like France.  

            The February 7 message of Eric Duedal to current UN procurement chief Paul Buades, obtained by Inner City Press and placed online here, suggests switching the qualification of having done "construction of military camps in peacekeeping mission in Africa" with a more general (and undefined) "austere field environment." France's Mr. Duedal also suggests a change downward from the RFP's requirement that qualified bidders list a minimum of three completed projects, each with a minimum value of $50 million.

            The responses obtained by Inner City Press show that  Interim UN Procurement chief Buades, rather than rejecting France's thirteen-hour lobbying out of hand, forwarded the message to two Procurement officials, Dmitri Dovgopoly and Chantal Maille, reportedly a French national, recently put in charge of Darfur procurement. Mr. Dovgopoly, despite his involvement in the $250 million no-bid contract to Lockheed Martin in Darfur which was criticized by the General Assembly, was promoted some weeks ago to a higher D-1 position. And, Inner City Press' sources say, Paul Buades who has overseen all this has a proposed promotion to D-2 sitting on the desk of Ban Ki-moon's senior advisor Kim Won-soo.

            Ms. Maille's response, which sources say was stilted from the fear of press exposure, based on this publication's detailed reporting on the Lockheed Martin no-bid deal, acknowledged that "it would not be wise to review the wording of the RFP on the basis of the request from the French Mission as the basis of the request is not transparent." She went on to write,  however, that "on the other hand, the UN will have the opportunity to gauge the importance of changing this criteria after the bidders conference."

            Inner City Press has previously asked and received confirmation that contractors were traveling to Darfur last month -- at least those granted visas by Sudan; others were blocked. On February 29, Inner City Press asked the French mission to the UN about Mr. Duedal and his proposed amendments, and asked the UN Department of Field Support for comments on the Darfur RFP and on another no-bid Darfur contract. DFS asked that this story be held for three days to allow their comment to "make it richer."

     On March 3, Inner City Press asked the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General about France's proposed changes to the RFP, and was told that there would be no comments on leaked e-mails, but that Procurement's Paul Buades could and should be contacted. Inner City Press sent him a copy of his e-mail exchange, and asked four questions:

--What should have been the response to Mr. Duedal's inquiry?

--Please describe any and all responses to Mr. Duedal's inquiry, and provide a current copy of the RFP, and list of companies who attended the bidders' conference, by nationality of headquarters, and those who were blocked.

--Please summarize and, it is requested, provide copies of recent similar communications from member states, particularly but not only Permanent Five members of the Security Council.

--Finally, is it your understanding that you are a / the finalist for the D-2 Procurement position?

            Less than an hour later, Mr. Buades to his credit called back. He said that a written response was in the works, to be transmitted by the UN's Department of Field Support. He demanded to know, "How did you get my e-mail? Who gave it to you?"

            A whistleblower, Inner City Press explained, one who thought that France's intervention with amendments to a completed RFP, and Procurement's responses, were improper. Buades asked again to know, who provided the information. A source who like investigative journalists anywhere, Inner City Press said, we will not reveal, so they won't be fired.

            "By your construction I would have fired the four people to who I sent the e-mail," Buades said.  He added, "I answer your questions but you do not answer mine. You twist what I say. Will you put my e-mail on the your web site?"

            Yes, Inner City Press replied, along with whatever comment or explanation you provide.

            "If you put it on the website, I think you deserve a different treatment," Buades said.

            Inner City Press has decided to accommodate Mr. Buades' request by publishing only two of the three pages of the e-mail chain, leaving out messages by Chantal Maille, Dmitri Dovgopoly and Buades himself. The message from France's Eric Duedal, however, must be published, along with the Procurement Services' explanation, in light of Buades' admonition to "transmit the information we give to you."

            On March 3, after being asked by the French mission to wait until the completion of the Security Council vote on Iran sanctions, a French official came to acknowledge to Inner City Press that France reached out to UN procurement, and would be happy to see French companies get this business. The official said that France's outreach was also on behalf of other European Union members, mentioning a bidder from Spain and adding that other countries should do the same. "Some small missions don't have the means," the French official said. "Maybe they should pool their resources."

            A key question is whether Procurement's Paul Buades would pay as much attention to a request for amendments by a smaller or less favored country. 

UN's Ban Ki-moon, France's Nicolas Sarkozy, French amendments to UN's Darfur RFP not shown

   What we can say is that the Procurement Division's response, delivered through DFS, shows that France essentially got the amendments it proposed. The UNPD / DFS response:

1.        Several factors prompted a change in the evaluation criteria for camp construction, which can happen regularly in complex tenders:

a.        The template for camp construction was provisionally scaled for a 200 man camp. As a result of security incidents in Darfur in late 2007 it was envisaged that the template would increase in size to 400 man camps. Department of Field Support (DFS) later informed Procurement Division (UNPD) that the template would most likely remain at maximum 200 man camps for evaluation purposes. As the Request for Proposal (RFP) incorporates a provision for splitting the award and as the level of construction effort will be less for the 200 man camp size, smaller sized construction companies would be able to submit proposals;

b.        UNPD's review of the RFP documents (RFPS-1142), in particular the source selection plan, revealed that some elements should have been more precise to ensure full competition and provide clarity.

2.        UNPD also received a number of concerns from European Union countries on the probability of very limited responses to the tender.

3.        As a consequence, DFS and UNPD agreed to make the following changes to the technical evaluation criteria for camp construction:

a.        "Contractors to list a minimum of 2 (two) completed comparable construction projects within the past 5 years where the vendor was the primary contractor or was the leading agent for construction element" instead of "3 (three) completed comparable construction projects where the vendor was the primary contractor."

b.        "Each contract cited should have minimum value at least 25 million US dollars" instead of "50 million US dollars."

c.        "Most similar projects would be construction of camps (military, peace keeping, refugee, etc.) in peacekeeping missions or in similar hardship areas of world" instead of "Most similar projects would be construction of military camps in a peacekeeping mission or in a similar environment."

These changes were incorporated in the formal RFP amendment which was distributed to all participants on 11 February 2008.

4.        The changes were aimed at maximizing international competition while maintaining appropriate selection standards for the Vendors.

5.        As a result, UNPD, at this point, has a robust response from the international market. In particular, it will be noted that 25 companies, representing 12 countries, attended the Darfur Conference in order to complete their proposals by 20 March 2008.

            One question is, if the UN's Procurement Division took France's amendments weeks after the January 15 RFP went out, how were other companies made eligible by the changes supposed to know to attend the Darfur Conference? And if they did not attend, can they bid by March 20?

            The French official pointed out that this lobbying was triggered by DFS' $250 million no-bid contract in Darfur with Lockheed Martin, announced on October 15, 2007. "You remember, Russia too was unhappy with that," the official said. In context, he argued that allowing these French amendments might make the process more inclusive that it has been. But if there is a slightly larger group of insiders, is it not still an insider's game? Should the UN not be required to tell all member states that this is the process, they can write to and be heard by the head of the UN's Procurement Service and get thirteen-hour changes to already finalized Requests for Proposals? "Maybe the Secretariat should do that," the French official conceded. There is more, on another UN's no-bid contract with Lockheed Martin. Watch this site.

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These reports are usually also available through Google News and on Lexis-Nexis.

Click here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army. Click here for an earlier Reuters AlertNet piece about the Somali National Reconciliation Congress, and the UN's $200,000 contribution from an undefined trust fund.  Video Analysis here

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