Transparency International Zambia(TIZ) president Rueben Lifuka says the huge amounts of money spend on the procurement 42 fire tenders and on the construction of the Ndola-Lusaka dual carriage way leaves it open for all manner of unscrupulous behavior.

In a statement issued to News Diggers today, Lifuka urged President Edgar Lungu and Local Government Minister Vincent Mwale to exercise leadership and ensure that the matter is not swept under the carpet.

Lifuka also urged the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) to redeem itself and address the various public concerns surrounding the fire tender procedure.

“The recent controversy and public outcry about the procurement of 42 Fire trucks and the award of a contract for the construction of the Lusaka- Ndola dual carriage road, demonstrates the need for government to seriously consider reviewing the public procurement procedures. Transparency International Zambia is greatly concerned with the limited levels of transparency and accountability in public procurement. It is an undisputed fact that the huge amounts involved in public procurement lends it open to all manner of unscrupulous behavior including bribery, collusion, bid rigging, and fraud among others,” Lifuka stated.

Lifuka stated that it is incumbent that proper explanations on the matter are given other than rushing into dismissing the public concerns.

“We therefore wish to call for a thorough investigation of this matter. The office of the Public Protector should rise to the occasion and address this matter. Similarly, Anti-Corruption Commission should redeem itself and address the various public concerns. His Excellency, President Lungu and the Honorable Minister Vincent Mwale should exercise leadership and ensure that this matter is not swept under the carpet,” he stated.

“Therefore, it is important that Government does not rush into dismissing concerns raised by the public and stakeholders on the procurement of the two projects and it is incumbent that proper explanations are given and if need be, necessary investigations are undertaken. As TI Zambia, we have a number of concerns relating to the manner in which the Government handled the procurement of the 42 fire trucks. We listened attentively to the Ministerial statement given by the Minister of Local Government, Hon. Vincent Mwale. Unfortunately, the Ministerial statement did not fully address these pertinent issues.”

Lifuka stated the principle of implementing programmes should be done within financial capacity of the country.

“We would like to state fromthat we do not challenge the principle of Government implementing programmes to improve fire and rescue services throughout the country. However, such improvements should be within the financial capacity of the country. Improvements in fire and rescue services should not be implemented in isolation without considering other competing needs. The argument therefore, should not be about the principle but the affordability and the timing of such a procurement,” Lifuka stated.

He also questioned how government managed to procure such expensive fire trucks when it always complained of not having enough resources to attend to many competing demands.

“We are concerned that Government seems to have focused on procuring a higher level of specification without any serious consideration of the question of affordability. Further, we question how Government arrived at uniform higher specifications for all towns, given the different environmental and social realities. A custom made fire truck for an urban area like Lusaka which has skyscraper building, is an unnecessary cost for a rural area like Luwingu with no high rise building. There are many development projects that the people of this country desire and yet Government’s position has been that it does not have the money to attend to many competing demands,” Lifuka added.

“On a daily basis, we hear Members of Parliament lamenting the poor living conditions, poor roads, absence of schools and health care etc, and yet government through the Minister of Finance, has been categorical that it will only spend what it has. In this instance therefore, it would seem government threw out of the window the aspect of affordability and settled for specifications for fire trucks which one would not even find in some of the developed countries. We also wonder the kind of technical support that government has put in place to ensure that these high-level custom made trucks are maintained properly. Our concern is that this deliberate and often unnecessary design of high specifications is a conduit for corruption through inflated tender bid prices. We therefore would like to know, how Government arrived at these high specifications for fire trucks and what other options were considered.”

Lifuka further asked how a company which was incorporated in July 2012 was eligible to participate in the bidding process.

“We would like to understand therefore, how Grand View International, a company that was incorporated in July 2012, was eligible to participate in this tender which was conducted in October 2015- hardly two and half years and hardly four months after the company met all the requirements of registration. Given the magnitude of this tender, all companies that participated should have demonstrated their experience in handling projects of a similar nature,” he further stated.

“Is Government, both through the Ministry of Local Government and the Zambia Public Procurement Authority, confirming that Grand View International did meet this particular requirement? And if this requirement was waived, why would Government work with a supplier who has no previous experience in supplying such equipment? The Auditor General has in recent times, reported of a number of instances where government and local authorities, have awarded contracts to supply equipment to companies that have no prior experience in the sector and such equipment still remains undelivered.”

He further asked government to explain the technical evaluation conducted by the procurement team under the Local Government Ministry.

“We would be interested to know the technical evaluation conducted by the Procurement team at the Ministry of Local Government, which still gave the company the preference to supply custom made fire trucks, ahead of recognized international and regional manufacturers and suppliers of fire-fighting equipment including trucks. Further, we want to believe that part of the requirements is for the Procurement team to undertake a due diligence to ascertain the competence of the company selected by visiting its offices as well as places where they either assemble or manufacture the required goods. Where was this done in the case of Grand View International? Can this report be made public?” asked Lifuka.