Luapula Province permanent secretary Bullet Nsemukila yesterday failed to justify why his office failed to take action against an officer who procured goods and services without a procurement plan.
When Nsemukila introduced his team to the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee, he boasted that his officers were very experienced with a good working culture, but later swallowed his words, requesting the committee to drop the issue on grounds that the officer in question had been transferred to another province.
But PAC, which is chaired by Muchinga constituency MMD member of parliament Howard Kunda demanded to know why government had transferred “a problem without disciplining it first”.
Mkushi North member of parliament Doreen Mwape was first to query the province’s lack of a procurement plan.
“Your provincial administration was operating, procuring goods and services and works without a procurement plan and in your response you stated that you were using the provincial administration work plan submitted by the departments under control 96 to procure goods and services. This is contrary to the Zambia Public Procurement Act number 12 Section 42. You acknowledged and you said you are regrettable, however, could you kindly tell this committee how you controlled the spending without a procurement plan in place and what was so difficult for you to prepare a procurement plan?” Mwape asked.
Her Kasempa counterpart Brenda Tambatamba added to the question, demanding to know what action had been taken against the officers who failed to draft a procurement plan.
In response, Nsemukila blamed his predecessor for the oversights and told PAC that the erring officer who should have drafted a procurement plan had been transferred.
“I acknowledge the concerns by honourable Mwape. Well, the truth is that there was an oversight on our part. I know that there were challenges in the procurement office at the time and of course I don’t know how to translate in English because it might lose the meaning. ‘Pyanango apyana namabala’. (When you succeed, you also succeed the challenges of what you have found). It was purely an oversight. I think we shouldn’t have done that as controlling office and also procurement office and the chief of procurement should have actually advised the controlling officer. It’s something we regret and that’s why immediately we observed that, we put a procurement plan which has actually been attached. Unfortunately if something was not put in place it is very difficult to recreate it now. But what we did, because the plans themselves had actually some activities and budgets that what was followed at the time but that’s no excuse for not having one. And I just request this House really that we are regrettable on this and it won’t happen,” Nsemukila said.
“In terms of honourable Tambatamba, what action we have taken on the officers, unfortunately the head of procurement at the time was transferred so we could not find that head of procurement and also of course it is difficult on the controlling officer like I said in a Bemba proverb. I would have really liked to have taken action on my predecessor. Thank you very much.”
But Mwape said it did not make sense to transfer a “problem” to another province without taking disciplinary action.
“Just to follow honorable Tambatamba’s, PS has said that the person who was in charge that time during procurement has been transferred therefore he couldn’t take any disciplinary action. If someone is transferred I am sure you know where he has been transferred to. You cannot transfer a problem to another province he is going to do the same thing there. So we want to know what action has been taken against that officer?” asked Mwape.
Nsemukila then apportioned some of the blame on himself, saying he should have had oversight.
“On honorable Mwape’s follow-up issue, I think we have to be honest that also they have to be guided by controlling officers. I think we shouldn’t use staffers as a scapegoat. If staff makes a mistake, we are supposed to guide them as controlling officers. Blaming the staff and then I leave myself as a controlling officer is not fair because I should have also had some oversight. But the point I am saying…and that is why I made that expression, it’s very difficult at this stage for me to start looking for that officer who should have been guided also by the controlling officer. So it is really a fault by two offices. My office as controlling officer and the office for the officer, and if you are at fault yourself, how do you go and guide an officer? So really we regret this and I promise that it won’t happen,” said Nsemukila.
When asked what he could have done to the erring officer, Nsemukila dodged the question, but assured the committee that he now had a good team in place.
“Systems are very important in public service and I agree sometimes we should not be transferring inefficiencies from one institution to the other. I agree entirely with you. But these are the issues that we are dealing with in terms of public service reforms and so on but of course there are mistakes we could have made in the past by transferring those inefficiencies. As I said, really as controlling officer, I should be on top of things to guide my officers and that’s why I said I’m very confident with my team. I’m not saying we may not make mistakes, we might. But at the moment, immediately we realized in October 2016 as we were working on the 2017 budget, as we were submitting to Parliament one of the things immediately you approved our budget, we worked on the procurement plan,” said Nsemukila.
“That’s how it should be. Even now we are eagerly waiting, once you approve our budget, we are working on the draft which we can edit here and there immediately you approve our budget. So our 2018 procurement plan will be place and that’s what we mean by systems. However, as I said in the past our system wasn’t as strong as it is today and we regret that. Really if I had a way I would have gone back to start recreating that and get it to what it should have been. Unfortunately It is very difficult at the moment to do that. I hope chairperson I have tried to respond as truthfully as I can.”