Zambia Institute of Purchasing and Supply (ZIPS) president Chibwe Mwewa says it is a well-documented fact that there is 30 per cent more corruption after a government procurement contract has been signed.

And Mwewa says the lack of a Procurement General as well as the failure to recognize the procurement process will continue costing Zambia huge sums of money.

Mwewa said this when ZNBC’s Sunday Interview host Gravazio Zulu asked him: “Last week, Chief Government Spokesperson Dora Siliya gave an exclusive interview to Diggers! newspaper in which she is quoted as bemoaning that there is a serious problem with the procurement system. She says the system seems to allow what she termed as ‘legal corruption’ [and] at the centre of all this is the procurement officer.”

“There can be corruption after the contract is signed. In fact, it’s a very documented fact that there is 30 per cent more corruption after the contract has been signed, when the contract is now being administered at that particular point. Many times [when] you sign a contract for 10 million and evaluations take it to US $120 million, maybe four, five or 10 times more, through evaluation process,” Mwewa replied.

He admitted that there was corruption in procurement, but hastened to add that the scourge was in the chain and not in the procurement functions.

“You see, the issue of procurement and corruption is an international issue because procurement deals with huge sums of money. So, the fraudulent corruption gravitates around or towards the procurement functions. It’s pivotal. But if I tell you right now that there is no corruption in procurement, I will be telling a lie. But I will tell you that procurement is not the only part where corruption can take place. It is not the epitome of the corruption process. I will give you a very simple example that corruption is there, but it is in the chain [and] necessarily on typical procurement functions,” he revealed.

He explained that engineers could also decide to corruptly tailor the specifications of the contract by using terms which the public would not understand.

“The entire procurement process is premised on three stages. There is (a) planning stage. At the planning stage when the engineer is coming up with detailed specifications, is drawing what needs to be done, terms of reference. At that point, the engineer can decide to be corrupt. I can, for instance, say that in my tender, I will supply 20 tonnes of custom silicate dehydrates and that can be in the description and people will not understand that and I will simply be saying 20 tonnes of cement. So, I can decide to tailor my specification to a particular contractor. And at that point, procurement is not even in the fore. So, there are a lot of things that can happen. I can also indicate, for instance, in my terms of reference that this particular person should have supplied this item so many times, effectively reducing competition and tailoring my specifications really to a particular contractor,” Mwewa said.

He said corruption could also exist at the procurement stage by way of limiting the solicitation period for interested bidders to participate.

“There can also be corruption at the procurement stage. For instance, the procurement folks can decide to limit the solicitation period maybe from six weeks to four weeks, for instance, or for one week so that only a few can participate in the process. There is also wrong that the procurement can do in terms of evaluation process. Evaluation process is the oily grey of a contract. If that part is not properly managed, you can end up giving somebody who is not really deserving. So, there can be corruption at that stage,” Mwewa said.

Asked what was the use of having the procurement functions if they could not take care of all the raised concerns, Mwewa said the lack of a contract administration manual created a loophole for engineers to be their “own bosses”.

“The engineers, for instance, signs evaluation, that particular process of contract administration is not controlled by any process. There is no contract administration manual, for instance, that guides what should happen. The engineer unilaterally signs those variations and they go and certify before it’s paid. And that party is really the epitome of corruption. How many times have you seen a national building being brought down because it wasn’t done properly? Or a section of the road being scrapped off because it didn’t follow specifications? Those things happen because somebody who certified that project is an engineer. [But if you asked to say] under what conditions did they certify that? So, there could be corruption there, too, massive corruption! The accountant, for instance, when you invoice, they will tell you [that] you said you will be paid after 30 days, but I can pay you next week if only you can pay me something. So, now, you realize that corruption is along the chain and it’s a very big fallacy, which people narrow it down to procurement officers. That is why we are not able to fight it,” he said.

And Mwewa said lack of a Procurement General was a serious challenge.

“There is no one singe department in government responsible for public procurement. So, all these problems that I have mentioned, there is no one single person where procurement is resident. The PS supervises procurement and the deputy PS will come in. The question that always arises is ‘who will control the controllers?’ If I differ with my PS, where do I go? That is why we are saying in one of the solutions, is that government itself has a Procurement-General who has never been funded. This Procurement-General should be responsible for the chain,” said Mwewa.

“Now, because that person is not there, people say ‘the President did this, the ministers, that.’ What needs to be done is that there should be somebody in government because what happens now is that if you are an officer in Mwense District and you challenge the powers that be, you will find yourself in Shang’ombo (District) the following day! You are not protected. So, we are dealing with a very important issue that is fatherless in government. For us, it’s a big problem.”