GOVERNANCE Activist Rueben Lifuka says the Zambia Public Procurement Authority (ZPPA) should be blamed for agreeing to the request to single source by a procuring entity which is notorious for not following the rules.

Lifuka was commenting on a News Diggers investigation which revealed that the Ministry of Health duped ZPPA and fraudulently awarded a US$8.5 million (K180 million) contract to Barakatel Investment Limited to procure 1,500 Tricycle Ambulances, citing COVID-19 response emergency.

In an interview, Lifuka said the funds used could have been used to employ more frontline workers.

“ZPPA should take a fair share of the blame for acquiescing to the request to single source by a procuring entity that is notorious for not following the rules. It is sad to note that the Covid-19 pandemic response, particularly during the third wave, needed a lot of support of various forms and monies that could have supplemented this response are tied up in Tricycles that are now parked and deteriorating even before use. These funds would have been used to pay the hardworking frontline staff who have gone beyond the call of duty to help us contain the Covid-19 pandemic,” Lifuka said.

“Surely, these funds, if we were a prudent nation, would have been utilized to employ, even on an emergency basis, additional frontline staff to deal with this pandemic. Alas, in Zambia our levels of impunity have reached a stage where the corrupt are willing to steal from the sick, the suffering and the dead- there is no sense of shame or morality at all. The Ministry of Health is a reflection of how we have handled corruption in this country. Politicians pretend to abhor corruption but fail to act when confronted with the real situations of corruption. The PF in opposition was exceedingly vocal about the corruption under the MMD leadership but what we are witnessing today eclipses the corruption of the past.”

He noted that leadership with integrity had been in short supply and the fruits of it was corruption on steroids.

“Today, corruption has been normalized, the conscience of leaders has become numb and desensitised to all manner of corruption stories. Nothing moves them and partly because we the people have allowed for this. We celebrate corrupt people who live in our communities. We fail to hold them to account for their illicit wealth and the people in their suffering, think corrupt people do them a favour when they dole out gifts and tokens to them. As long as we the people remain complacent and find nothing wrong with wanton corruption especially in the public service, the Tricycle saga and many others, will remain the staple diet of this country. Corruption cannot be fought using miraculous efforts, it needs committed and decisive leadership and this is what is missing to a large extent in many sectors of the country. Leadership with integrity has been in short supply and the fruits of this is basically- corruption on steroids,” he said.

Lifuka said the scandals at the ministry called for decisive leadership to seal all the loopholes.

“The Ministry of Health continues to attract negative headlines and most of these are related to allegations of fraudulent and corrupt public procurement. The latest scandal of Tricycle Ambulance continues to exemplify the absence of both political and technical leadership to resolve the problem of corruption which has become systemic and endemic in this Ministry. The litany of scandals associated with this Ministry cry out for capable and decisive leadership willing to get to the bottom of this and put in place measures to seal all loopholes. It is this Ministry that in recent times was in the news for the Honeybee saga and the procurement of defective medical kits, it is MoH which attracted public outcry over the irregular purchase of ambulances,” Lifuka said.

“In the past, donors withheld funding to this ministry because of allegations of corruption and other wrong doings. The Auditor General has dutifully highlighted, on various occasions, fraudulent activities and poor conduct particularly in relation to public procurement. Controlling officers have appeared before the Parliamentary Accounts Committee and pledged to deal with the numerous challenges faced, but all this is in vain and some people in MoH continue with impunity to aggrandize personal wealth from public resources.”

He further stated that persons assigned with the task of superintending over the affairs of the ministry had lamentably failed to decisively deal with the problem.

“The story of MoH is a manifestation of what happens when there is leadership and system failure in any set up. Clearly, persons assigned with the task of superintending over the affairs of this Ministry, have lamentably failed to decisively deal with the problem. There is no logical explanation for the continued loss of public resources through the abuse of single sourcing during procurement. This Ministry has previously been granted the no objection dispensation by the Zambia Public Procurement Authority to single source the supply of specified materials and the outcome has largely been the same- i.e allegations of corruption, over priced procurement etc,” said Lifuka.

“The Covid-19 pandemic, unfortunately, presented an opportunity for unscrupulous individuals within the Ministry and elsewhere to abuse emergency public procurement for their own personal gain. These individuals see nothing wrong in obtaining illicit enrichment even if this comes at the expense of the suffering of millions of Zambians. In the case of the Tricycle saga, clearly the ordinary people have not benefited from this equipment which is not in full use and the real winners are the company that was single sourced and whoever was involved in this deal.”