Chinese contractor Anhui Foreign Economic Construction has filed suit to challenge a directive by Namibia’s President Hage Geingob halting a $477-million airport upgrade the company was awarded in early December.

Anhui was notified on Dec. 3 of its preferred bidder status for the upgrading and expansion of Namibia’s only international airport, Hosea Kutako. However, the contract was canceled on Dec. 22.

Notification came through a statement issued by the president through press secretary Albertus Aochamub. The president said that, although Namibia Airports Co. (NAC) invited expressions of interest for the project, “a formal tender process was not undertaken,” and that, because Anhui circumvented tendering when the firm was awarded the contract, “some companies that did not react to the initial expression of interest may have been disadvantaged.” He said an expression of interest “cannot automatically translate into a tender process.” The president added that NAC has no mandate to award the contract “since it is not in a position to finance it.”

The tender will be now be procured by the Ministry of Works and Transport with the participation of the Tender Board of Namibia, which approves all national government projects.

Anhui’s contract award was also not approved by Treasury and Attorney General as required by the Public Procurement Act, which passed last year.

However, in a statement issued to Namibian press, Anhui’s Vice President Wang Hao defended the award of the contract and termed its cancellation illegal. “AFECC followed the procurement process of the project and the requirements of Namibia Airports Co. and the company is sure the whole procurement process is legal, fair, reasonable and transparent,” the statement read.

Wang said the government has not explained to Anhui why the contract was canceled. “We have pumped huge amounts of money in the designs and in ensuring presentation of the best project proposal,” he said. “Canceling the project at this stage is an economic loss and it tarnishes the image of our company.” Anhui “needs accurate reasons from both and the government why the contract was canceled,” Wang added.

Namibia wants to transform the Hosea Kutako International Airport, which has an annual passenger capacity of 814,810, into one of the top gateways into the Southern African Development Community, a trade organization that promotes ties among 14 countries in the region.