Higher education minister questioned over illegal tenders

As the government moves to inject funds into infrastructure development in the higher education sector in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), pressure is mounting on the minister of higher education to explain allegations over the embezzlement of millions of dollars.

Salomon Tudieshe, the attorney-general, revealed earlier in January that millions of dollars have gone missing during the tendering and procurement process. He accused Minister of Higher Education Muhindo Nzangi Butondo of involvement in illegal tenders worth about US$42 million.

The funds, earmarked for construction work and the renovation of universities, were allocated by the government to revamp the infrastructure of five universities in the country and ensure they are able to accommodate more students and offer a better quality of education.

“What we have seen [during the attorney-general’s investigation] is the embezzlement of public funds. We are still investigating and the case shall be sent to the competent court for the next step,” said Tudieshe.

“Minister Muhindo is aware of the allegations against him and was interrogated, [together] with other concerned public servants allegedly involved in malpractices such as the awarding of procurement contracts, a matter that will also be investigated,” he said.

The funds were allocated to construction work at five universities, namely, l’Université Officielle de Mbuji-Mayi (the University of Mbuji-Mayi, or UOM), l’Institut National des Bâtiments et Travaux Publics (The National Institute of Building and Public Works, or INBTP), l’Université Pédagogique Nationale (The National Pedagogical University, or UPN), in Kinshasa, and l’Université de Kananga (The University of Kananga.

This has been the most substantial funding allocated to infrastructure in the past few years, according to officials.

According to Tudieshe, his investigations sought to verify compliance with the rules in the awarding of public contracts for the execution of this project and the preliminary investigation revealed some malpractices.

“The case will be handled according to the law and those involved in it will be brought to book,” he said.

Allegations denied

According to Minister Ngazi Butondo, the allegations are baseless. He said that all the tender and procurement processes were observed, and the tenders were awarded to competent companies.

“The awarding of the construction contracts for all the five universities has been done by strictly complying with standards,” he said.

“The calls for tenders have been launched and all the stages of awarding public contracts have been scrupulously respected and there was no embezzlement or malpractice in the process,” he added.

For instance, Ngazi Butondo said that construction work for the Université Officielle de Mbuji-Mayi had started and the company that was hired will pre-finance the activities and issue an invoice later to be paid.

He said the construction and renovation activities will cost US$17 million.

He called for calm as the court of auditors continued their investigations, terming them as routine work that will yield findings that will be made public soon.

This article was translated from French by Jean d'Amour Mbonyinsuthi.