Action Aid country director Nalucha Ziba says she does not believe that government has the capacity to effectively implement the fight against corruption because it seemingly cannot deal with the big fishes in the corruption chain.

And Ziba says government admission that there is “legal corruption” being practiced in the country’s procurement systems and it’s decision to create a position of senior oversight officer to bear responsibility for procurement processes is not enough when the governance systems are weak.

In an exclusive interview with News Diggers last week, Chief Government Spokesperson Dora Siliya disclosed that President Edgar Lungu and his government had conceded that there was a serious problem with the procurement system which was allowing inflated bids and thereby permitting “legal corruption” through the normal tender procedures.

But commenting on Siliya’s revelations in a separate interview, Ziba charged that the PF government was not really serious about the fight against corruption and had just been paying a lip-service to it all along.

“When it comes to corruption, I think we have unfortunately seen a lukewarm approach from government. There hasn’t been that seriousness towards the fight against corruption due to a number of reasons among them the strengthening of structures and also allowing the independence of entities whose whole mandate is to deal with corruption. For instance, we know that the Anti-Corruption Commission, before they can go ahead to investigate a case, they have to seek authority from the Attorney General and yet the qualifications of the person who permits the ACC has the same qualifications as themselves. So why should ACC get permission from another entity before they can go ahead and start prosecuting? So these are some of the things which need to be harmonised if we are really going to show seriousness around the fight against corruption,” Ziba said.

“And then also what we have seen is that the State is usually very eager to deal with junior officers who engage in corruption but they don’t want to deal with senior officers and the ministers themselves. They don’t deal with the big fishes in this chain. But if we can deal with corruption at the highest level, we will be able to send the right signals in the correct direction because over the years, we have seen how some cases have been mishandled around corruption. So for me really, government is not serious about that fight, they have just been paying a lip-service to it. But what we are hoping for now that government has realised that there is a lot of legalised corruption happening…it’s because the corruption which is happening is following through the necessary systems and procedures which have been put up. But at the end of the day whether you call it legal corruption or anything, it’s still stealing of public resources, there is still an average Zambian who is being stolen from. So the people we have entrusted with protecting the citizens need to play their role and try to protect our resources.

Ziba agreed that there was need to re-look the procurement system in government as it had been facilitating leakages.

“Considering that government has come to an agreement with what stakeholders have been saying all along that we seem to be having inflated costs when it comes to services and goods that government has been procuring, our hope is that they will strengthen the government systems and procedures around procurement of services and goods because what we have observed is that most of this same legal corruption is facilitated for using the various legislative processes that have been put in place, but also even through our own national budget where funds are allocated towards service delivery. For instance if you look at the bulk of our proposed 2020 budget, most of it is around construction. There is about K10 billion towards road construction. But in terms of how that process will be undertaken, this is where you find that the number of tenders or roads which are being constructed are constructed using inflated costs and this is where people have been crying to say there is need for the systems to be looked at so that we try to protect the leakages of public resources around the financial flows,” she said.

“Even when you read the Auditor General’s report, most of it is around stores management, procurements. So the procurement system of government needs to have a total overhaul. There is need to re-look at it because it’s been facilitating these leakages and government is losing colossal sums of money which is quite unfortunate because as a country, we are struggling to have these services delivered using the best sources possible. But however, there are people who are taking advantage of the loopholes in the systems. So this needs to be further interrogated and acted upon as opposed to merely stating to say ‘yes there is a problem’. We are convinced that government can do something about this to end these processes facilitating for corruption. We are also looking forward to seeing the Public Procurement Act revised so that it’s able to deal with some of these things we are noticing from the system.”

Ziba added that without the necessary structures being made functional in the government system, the country would continue to see flaws in the procurement systems.

“For me really apportioning the lack of having senior oversight in procurement processes like having a Procurement General, that in itself will not end the corruption. It’s about how our systems are working. For instance, each government ministry has the Integrity Committees which by and large are an extension of the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), so what are those integrity committees doing in those ministries? That should be the question before we even bring in the Procurement General or anything like that because, yes the bulk of the legalised corruption is happening on procurement, however, we do have integrity committees which are an extension of the Anti-Corruption Commission in most of the government ministries,” noted Ziba.