A high-value consultancy project, which set out to analyze and propose a strategic plan for Ethiopian Commodity Exchange (ECX), funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and managed by Agricultural Transformation Agency (ATA), has sparked controversies as the Dubai-based Stalwart Management Consulting Services lodged complaints against ECX and ATA for intentional and unfair exclusion from competing in the project.
Last year, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation committed to fund a project that will be tasked to diagnose the journey of the Ethiopian Commodity Exchange (ECX) in the past eight years, propose a future strategic masterplan and study on lessons learnt from other African countries. For these purposes, the Foundation availed 1.3 million dollars.
However, founded by Yohannes Assefa (one of the launching officers at the ECX) and other associates from different countries, the Stalwart Consulting was never part of the original bid process. Yet, consulting names such as Deloitte, McKinsey and Ernst and Young (E&Y) were invited to participate in the bid. That’s where the discontents started to arise, Yohannes said.
According to Yohannes, the Foundation assigned TechnoServe to supervise the project and Deloitte was awarded project fair and square. Deloitte in turn subcontracted Stalwart as the latter claims to have the right expertise to undertake the consultancy work. The subcontractor after acquiring the job has been making arrangements to initiate the project until Ermias Eshetu, CEO of ECX, declined to approve the subcontracting deal which mandated Stalwart to do the actual work. According to Yohannes and other sources who are close to the matter, the involvement of Stalwart was rejected because of the history of some of the partners; that is their former employment at the ECX. According to sources, the direct involvement of ex-ECX men would mean that conflict of interest would arise automatically. Yohannes admits existence of the potential conflict of interest.
Hence, the proposal both Deloitte and Stalwart have submitted was refused by ECX’s CEO. Later on, a new proposal was resubmitted excluding the former ECX professionals from partaking in the project.
Once again, the second proposal too was denied by ECX on the grounds of the need to incorporate extra activities in the consultancy work which was never part of the bid document, Yohannes told The Reporter. “ECX demanded Deloitte to provide training for a team of ten management staff as part the consultancy work,” Yohannes said. Though out of the Term of Reference (ToR) requirements, Deloitte agreed to provide trainings to the ECX staff at Deloitte University based in Dallas, Texas. That, however, was rejected by ECX claiming that the Foundation must channel the fund and ECX should have the mandate to administer the funds, Yohannes said.
Following the position of ECX, the contract was canceled in January this year and the fund was returned back to the Foundation. However, during Bill Gates’ recent visit to Ethiopia, the project was once again reconsidered and the Foundation assigned ATA to supervise the work in place of TechnoServe. And, Deliotte with the exclusion of Stalwart was assigned to run alone with the project, Yohannes said. Via email, Heather Oh, the former TechnoServe Ethiopia head, told The Reporter: “The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the donor funding the engagement you’re referring to, has decided to shift the project management responsibilities from TechnoServe to the ATA before any work on the project started. Thus, we’ve handed over project responsibilities to the ATA”.
Efforts made by The Reporter to include comments of ECX and ATA bare no fruit as both governmental agencies declined to comment on the record. Officials maintained their position of not commenting on the issue publicly. But, what ECX and ATA have done according to Yohannes is a “pure discrimination”.