Government’s failure to appoint procurement managers has contributed to major problems being faced in Zambia’s public procurement system, says Zambia Institute of Purchasing and Supply president Chibwe Mwelwa.
Speaking when he featured on ZNBC’s Sunday Interview, Mwelwa said procurement personnel in government were not supposed to be answerable to anyone.
He added that there was unfair attention given to the procurement functions, which was the only loophole where corruption can take place.
“There is unfair attention for the procurement functions as [if] that’s the only process where corruption can take place. Corruption takes place in the whole chain. It could at the planning stage, it could be at the execution; it could be at administration. If you look at the way procurement is done now, the buyer at the ministry is the secretary to the tender committee, it is chaired by the CEO or the Permanent Secretary. The buyer in that particular process is not even a voting member, he/ she takes minutes of that particular procurement process. So, because it is not one person who is given the responsibility to procure, it’s a group of people, it becomes very difficult. This is why we are saying from the institute that government has to relook at the whole tendering process. I will give you an example, if you look at the way it is now, government has neglected the position of the internal auditor to a PS level, to a procurement general. So, you discover that the finance aspect, they have assembled who they report to professionally,” Mwelwa said.
He observed that there was no one in government who bore responsibility for procurement.
“So, if I am a finance person in any ministry, I report to PS practically, but I report to the accountant general professionally. So, if I have a problem with my PS, for instance, who is the chair of the tender committee, then I need to tell my accountant general but believe it or not, in procurement, there is no such position. So, the procurement personnel in government actually has no father in the procurement process. There is nobody in government who has the responsibility of procurement. So that has a lot of problems,” Mwelwa observed.
Asked if the institution had the power to report or recommend any procurement officer for discipline if one was involved in fraudulent activities, he said that was a duty of the courts.
“We don’t come out and say somebody …because that is not our mandate. Our mandate is not to find out that you are fraudulent that is now going to courts of law. You have to look at code of conduct. So, what we do is that if we find out that somebody has done something, there is a disciplinary committee that we have at the institute. And we are not going to be saying you stole or you are corrupt anything like that because that interpretation is the courts of law. For us, what we do is you are supposed to follow the code of conduct, and if you are found that you are erring in that area, there are provisions in the Act and one of them is that we can censure you or we can withdraw your license and once we withdraw your license, you can’t practice anymore. You have actually fired yourself,” Mwelwa added.
He highlighted the delayed payments to contractors as one factor that led to abandoned projects.
“The other issue is that contractors are not paid on time. Sometimes you raise your interim payment certificates and they stay in the ministry for years. So, that contractor is not just going to go to the bank and get money. You know, sometimes, how our lending rates are so…waiting for that money. And that is a problem. So, government must do it by paying the contractor. We want a situation where if the minister or president goes to some abandoned project, he should actually ask the contract manager. He shouldn’t ask the PS,” he noted.
And asked why there were no contract managers, Mwelwa said the procurement process was not respected.
“I think it’s actually about people not necessarily respecting the procurement process and also our buyers not coming to the fore in advance. It’s a failure by government to ensure that those people are actually appointed,” said Mwelwa.