We need watertight procurement laws to curb overpricing and to ensure that all procurement matters are handled by procurement officers without any interference, says Vincent Mwale as he takes over from Ronald Chitotela in the Ministry of Infrastructure Development.
And Mwale says Zambia has done well in road infrastructure, but that the same energy should be exhibited in housing development.
Speaking on Hot FM breakfast show, Monday, Mwale said there is no way a commodity that has a market value of K10 should cost K100 when procured by government, adding that the Ministry of Finance is expected to provide diligent oversight to stop such practices.
“In this country there has been so much talk about lack of transparency in various Ministries on procurement, and if you listened to Parliament on Thursday [last week], there was a question to do with procurement and I actually did refer this matter to Ministry of Finance to help this country, help Ministries come up with laws that will help those that are in charge of procurement to do their work in a much more transparent manner. And I think that this is not just about Minister of Infrastructure, but generally; I think all of us want to make sure that laws are water-tight. How far can you go procuring something beyond market price? If market price is K10 for something, can you go on and buy it at K100? Those are things that Ministry of Finance (should) look at; procurement laws have to come in and deal with and standardise. We can’t have rules for Ministry of Local Government, rules for Ministry of Health and how we are going to procure,” Mwale observed.
“So, we have to make sure that people in charge of procurement are really professional and that whatever knowledge they need is actually imparted in them and that they are very professional. So, procurement must be done by procurement people. I don’t see how, then, all of us will be accused for procurement matters if the entities that are employed to deal with procurement are the ones dealing with it. If the issue of roads is a matter to do with RDA (Road Development Agency); RDA has systems, it’s got a CEO and the whole team. So, all the procurement for roads is a matter that RDA should be dealing with. We have to make sure that the best practices, really, are embraced. So, we are going to embrace best practices and our focus shall be to transform this country.”
He stressed the importance of allowing the Ministry of Finance to dictate how procurement should be done.
“The Ministry of Finance, actually, has to make sure that benchmarks are set on how procurement should be done. Can anyone procure anyhow they want even though we know what should be normal pricing for things and so on? That is a matter for the Ministry of Finance to deal with. Our job as Ministries is to deal with policy issues and the procurement entities are linked to the Ministry of Finance and the Minister of Finance has to make sure that, that happens,” he added.
Meanwhile, Mwale said his main focus would be to deliver housing infrastructure development with the same vigour exhibited in the road sector.
“We have done very well as a country in infrastructure development, but I think that we need to face the issue of housing with the same energy we faced the issue of roads. We need to make sure that we attain SDG 11, which deals with sustainable citizens communities where we have transportation in there. We have energy in there and housing. If you sort out housing, affordable housing for people in this country, you would have sorted out a number of things. So, I want to make sure that we focus on that. We’ve done so well in roads and we want to make sure that with the same vigour we confront the problem of housing deficit. But credit to Honourable Chitotela, he has done very well in this Ministry, he pushed infrastructure to all corners of the country. We will pick up from there and also be able to add the aspect of housing to everything that needs to be achieved in the Ministry,” Mwale said.
When asked how he had received his transfer from the Ministry of Local Government to the new Ministry, Mwale said he had mixed feelings.
“Well, of course, with mixed feelings, I was struggling within myself. First of all, I had a very good team at Ministry of Local Government and we set out our vision as a Ministry – what we intended to achieve. At the same time, I was thinking: ‘this is a new challenge before me.’ I also look forward to new things, new challenges because this is something different. This Ministry is huge, it has a lot of things that it has to deal with. So, I was thinking, which is which. But the most important thing is that when the President decides, he knows what he’s doing, he has said it before [that] he’s the coach and he watches us as we play the game and he decides to place us in positions that he thinks we best suit. But, definitely, I am going to miss the Ministry of Local Government, there is a lot that we started that I really wanted to see to the end,” Mwale said.