PUBLIC Accounts Committee chairperson Howard Kunda says it is unacceptable that the Ministry of Health over committed expenditure by entering into contracts that exceeded the total budget provision.
Parliament on Wednesday moved a motion to adopt the Public Accounts Committee on the interim report of the Auditor General on the utilisation of COVID 19 resources.
Debating the motion, Kunda who is also Muchinga member of parliament, said it was disheartening to note the glaring irregularities related to the procurement of goods and services under the Covid-19 response programme.
“The Committee appreciates the role played by the Ministry of Health as the key Ministry responsible for public health delivery. It is however disheartening to note that the Report of the Auditor General has revealed glaring irregularities related to the procurement of goods and services’; poor contract management and other malpractices like cover bidding and over committing at the Ministry. Mr Speaker, cover bidding by suppliers has the potential to stypfoil competition and it is contrary to public procurement regulations. It is also shocking that the Ministry of Health over committed expenditure by entering into contracts that exceeded the total budget provision. It is unacceptable for the Ministry to conduct itself in such a manner,” lamented Kunda.
Finance Minister Dr Bwalya Ng’andu, however, said controlling officers involved in the illegalities had already been dealt with.
“This report is serious and factual report without any drama. It does not throw baseless accusations against anybody, against any individual. I wish to inform the House that most of the support from the cooperating partners was not provided as direct finances or money to government but in kind of a support through provisional training, capacity building, health frontline staff, food packs machinery equipment. Mr Speaker, the pledges for example by the African Development Bank and the World Bank were managed by country project implementation units, while the pledges from the bilateral partners were channeled through the World Health Organisation and the United Nations Children’s Fund and the non governmental organisations. Therefore, no funds were managed or mismanaged if you like by the government,” stressed Dr Ngándu.
“The Honorable members of the committee have also made various observations and recommendations as regards the abrogation of the public procurement processes and failure to adhere to treasury and financial circular number three of 20 by the Ministry of Health officials. Specifically, the committee notes that there was failure to use electronic government procurement systems and simplified bidding. Mr Speaker, the House may need to know that this was a serious omission by the controlling officer and her contract has since been terminated. The other officers under the procurement unit have been demoted for their failures to adhere to the procurement regulations and guidelines. Just to underscore the fact that we respond to all those that abuse responsibility that has been given to them.”
And Health Minister Dr Jonas Chanda said a comprehensive report on the COVID utilisation would soon be revealed.
“My Ministry will submit in due course a comprehensive progressive report in accordance with the established practice and procedure. We expect that investigative wings and prosecuting agencies will similarly do their jobs. Just as the courts of law have to perform their functions. Systems have been strengthened, all procurements and payments are now done through the appropriate electronic government systems. The procurement function for medicines and medical supplies has been transferred to Zambian Medicines and Medical Supplies Agency, ZAMSA. Other actions have involved dissolving and reconstituting a number of these boards that is one of the statutory in the Ministry of Health. Financial and procurement irregularities. Mr Speaker I wish to report that in addition to strengthening the system, disciplinary action has been instituted against the affected officers including termination of contracts and demotions of a number of officers at the Ministry of Health,” said Dr Chanda.