A Dubious Acquisition: How the Town of Cahul Has Got a Defective Snow Removal Machine
The abundant snow fell in the past weeks has disclosed a problematic public procurement made four years ago by the local government of Cahul. Then, the Communist mayor Petru Burlacu concluded, after a public tender, a contract for the purchase of a truck equipped with an anti-skid material spreader with ”Driving LLC”, owned by the daughter of Paul Anton, the leader of the Communist faction in the Town Council of Cahul.
The truck, 9 years old, became a pest for sanitation officials. It has never worked properly – it was not in a good technical condition when it was purchased, neither now. Most of the people we talked with in Cahul think that someone simply wanted to get rid of this machine, which had lost its capacity of operation, therefore, it was sold to the town hall. It is not known if Pavel Anton, the party colleague of the mayor, has played any role in this transaction. The former mayor Petru Burlacu says that the auction was conducted in accordance with the law and there was no secret undertaking, and the truck had some problems just at the beginning, "during the adjustment period".
The public tender for the purchase of the vehicle took place on 26th of January 2012 and the working group consisted of 7 people, including the mayor Petru Burlacu and the deputy mayor Iurie Arnăut. According to the website of the Public Procurement Agency, four companies submitted their bids. Among them, three companies from Chișinău and one from Cahul. The bidder from Cahul, the company "Driving" LLC, belongs to Irina Radu, the daughter of Pavel Anton, leader of the Communists in Cahul Town Council.
The Vendor: the Company Owned by the Daughter of the Leader of the Communist Faction in the Town Council
According to the State Registration Chamber, "Driving" LLC was registered in 2004, Irina Radu being its single founder. The company’s manager is her husband, Andrei Radu. The company has a share capital of 2 809 914 lei, and its main kind of activity is the retail trade of spare parts, components and accessories for vehicles.
This company proposed the lowest price, 539 700 lei, at the auction for the purchase of the special vehicle, and its offer was declared the winning bid namely for this reason. In such a way, the sanitation services of Cahul Town Hall have got a second-hand truck MAZ-555 102 (see the picture), manufactured in 2003 and equipped with a new sand spreading engine. Just for comparison, another bidder proposed a truck and equipment produced in 2011, at a price of 245 thousand lei more.
”The Machine Was Not Operational. We Used Shovels to Spread the Sand, All the Town Laughed at Us”
Even if, according to the documents, the spreading equipment appears as new, the machine could not be used in practice, said those who worked with it. "It was in a bad condition right from the beginning. When I first took its wheel, I was not even allowed to check the oil. I was told: Get behind the wheel and be gone! I went away, what could I do when the indication came from the boss? Then the repairs started: sometimes the truck needed some repair, sometimes - the equipment. I found and bought a box, I installed it, but it did not fit the spreader, because it came from a combine. Again, I informed my boss about it. Since then, it annoys us. From the first year, something breaks down, either the transporter, or the rotating blade. Therefore, I usually had to take with me two men who stood up on the truck, put sand with shovels and the rotating blade just spread it. We worked like this for about one year, then I took another vehicle and they used the snow removal machine just like a truck. It’s a hand-made machine, I would say. They cobbled it up", Serghei Niconov, the driver who was entrusted the truck immediately after the purchase, said to us.
Vasile Raru, the current head of the mayoralty’s sanitation service, appointed recently in this position, said the same. He stated they still use the truck for snow removal works, as the municipality does not have another vehicle for such works. "I started working here one month ago. The car has flaws. We use it one day, then we repair it for three days. I’ve invited a specialist who checked it, we want to fix it up, but we need to spend money for it. I do not know how this machine was accepted then. We’ve dismantled the sand spreading machine and we found the cause of the problem - one of its original devices was out of order. I ordered that device in Romania and so we could fix it up. I hope we will succeed to bring it to a good condition, but I tell you honestly, this machine is a real pest. With all that money, nearly 600 thousand lei, we could buy two tractors equipped with shovels and brooms. Last year, two guys climbed up and threw the sand with the shovels, all the town was laughing at us", Vasile Raru said.
The Former Head of the Sanitation Service: “The Equipment Was Very Precarious. Sometimes It Operated, Sometimes Not.”
Gavriil Chițaniuc, the former head of the sanitation service of Cahul mayoralty, was the official who performed the procedure for acceptance of the truck. He confirms that the truck was not well operating, but he says it was because of the hydraulic system. "As far as I know, the machine is operational now. We fixed up the hydraulic system and now it operates. I was a member of the procurement board, the one consisting of 9 people. There I told them that we need a new ZIL or KAMAZ model. The mayor was the one who decided about the rest, about the financial matters. He knew how much money the town had. From the viewpoint of its parameters, the vehicle was satisfactory, but while equipping it, they did something wrong. The sand spreader was very, very precarious. It sometimes operated, and sometimes it didn’t. We called the engineers several times, but in vain", the former head of the sanitation service told us.
The Former Mayor: “What Kind of Deal? Who Said That a Mayor Makes Procurements?”
The former mayor Petru Burlacu, who was the head of the tender board, denies that there was any secret undertaking with councilor Pavel Anton related to the purchase of the truck. "I do not remember from whom the car was purchased, because we bought several machines at that period. In fact, does the company of Mr. Anton have such trucks? I do not know, we must look through the files. But if this company was selected, it means that it matched the requirements and it offered the best price. The model of the vehicle was one of the selection criteria. What kind of deal? Who said that a mayor makes procurements? I chaired the working group, but the chairman does not make any decision related to the procedure. He just signs on behalf of the working group", Petru Burlacu told us.
The former mayor says that there were some problems in the beginning, but they required in fact some "technical adjustments". "In the beginning, it was necessary to make some adjustments, but the technician came and arranged everything. The other day, I saw the truck working on the street. These days, there might be some problems with the oil, because of the cold, you know that the hydraulic system can cause some problems in cold weather", the former mayor added. Petru Burlacu had two mandates of mayor of Cahul, until the summer of 2015, when he lost the election. Now Burlacu is the head of the Territorial Social Insurance House of Cahul.
On behalf of the company "Driving", the contract for the truck’s sale and purchase was signed by a person named Ion Zagorodnâi, who was its manager. Currently, the company is managed by Andrei Radu, the son-in-law of Pavel Anton, the leader of the Communists in Cahul Town Council. "I have been working for this company since 2012, but I cannot tell you anything about this procurement, because another person dealt with it", told us Andrei Radu and promised to call us after talking with Ion Zagorodnâi. He did not call, so we phoned him again and this time he said that he could not get in touch with Zagorodnâi, because he left for Russia two years ago.
We have been hunting for councilor Pavel Anton for more than a week in order to find out whether he had or not any role in selling the truck of his daughter’s company to the local government, but he did not answer the phone. We sent him a SMS informing why we were looking for him, but he did not react either.
We also searched for the former deputy mayor, Iurie Arnăut, who was a member of the tender board for the purchase of the truck. Arnăut was at that time a member of the same party as Burlacu and Anton. "The problem is that the lowest price matters at an auction. The secretary of the board stated that the truck complied with our requirements. But another problem is that the truck came with a delay of several months and it had very serious problems. The equipment was not operational. I could not do anything. Within the board, I simply was an ordinary member, but the mayor was the one who ruled all these issues. The truck was assigned to the sanitation service. This service was not under my subordination. All instructions, the organizational ones and the ones related to the procurements, were given by the mayor. In April 2013, I resigned from my position, because I realized that it was not for me and I did not want to have any connection with all their misdeeds. Last year, I also left the party", Iurie Arnăut told us.
The website of the Public Procurement Agency informs about a total number of 5 auctions won by "Driving" LLC, 3 of which were organized by the local government of Cahul and the other two - by the South zonal Station for Emergency Medicine. Among all these contracts, the contract for the delivery of the MAZ truck has the highest value.
In What State is the Truck Now?
The present mayor of Cahul, Nicolae Dandiș, says that in spite of all the truck is used for snow removal from the roads. "Before the snowfall, we installed the anti-skid material spreader and we saw that it was not operational. We had problems with it, we had to replace some parts. At the moment, as the head of the sanitation service said to me, the machine is operational. He could solve the problem after consulting several specialists and they have correctly identified the cause of the problem. I hope it will be a long-lasting solution, especially now that we need this machine", Nicolae Dandiș said.
Expert: “ I Consider that Law Enforcement Institutions Have to Take Action in Relation with This Case”
The President of the Association for Efficient and Responsible Governance, Olesea Stamate, states that applying the principle of "the best price" while selecting the winning bid is not always the right way. "Leaving aside the good or bad will of the responsible decision-makers, which is now difficult to evaluate, this procurement is a classic example of inappropriate or erroneous application of the legal provisions regarding the evaluation of bids. Or, the legislation also allows the application of the principle of “the most economically advantageous bid”, in addition to the principle of the lowest price, but the members of the working group often avoid, for various reasons, to apply it and choose the easier way.
Consequently, we find out multiple cases when a certain good purchased at the lowest price turns out the most expensive, when you consider the maintenance or the operational costs. In such cases, the losers are the honest citizens who pay taxes which are used to purchase goods of a poor quality. I think that, in this specific case, the law enforcement institutions must take action and check the legality of the procurement, because the fact that the machine malfunctioned since it was purchased raises some questions", Olesea Stamate commented.
The investigation has been done in the framework of the Campaign „Public Money Is My Money Too”, conducted by the Centre for Journalistic Investigations (CJI) and the Association for Efficient and Responsible Governance (AGER), within a project funded by the European Union and the National Endowment for Democracy.
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