ZPPA Director General Idah Chella on Sunday struggled to prove her organisation’s relevance as far as preventing overpriced public procurement is concerned.

Featuring on ZNBC’s Sunday Interview, said at the moment, ZPPA was just an oversight institution which does not get involved in the procurement of certain things.

She said this when she was asked about ZPPA’s role in some procurements which the public have deemed outrageous like the fire trucks and the Honeybee saga.

“Like I mentioned before, all PE’s (Procuring Entities) are decentralised. So ZPPA doesn’t get involved in the procurement of these things, we are an oversight institution. It was under Zambia National Tender Boards that we used to get involved because at that time, we would give authority as well as float the tenders on behalf of the PE’s but we no longer do that, so they do on their own. The only thing that happens is that in case there is any query, or maybe a dissatisfied bidder, if there is an appeal, for example, because that’s when these things are brought to us, if there is an appeal against the decision of the PE, then ZPPA comes in as an authority to look at the entire tender process in order to determine whether that was conducted in accordance with the solicitation document, the act as well as the regulation,” she said.

“If we find that it was not done in accordance with the solicitation document or within the law to say in a nutshell, then we are able to ask the PE to effect measures like maybe re-evaluate the tender so that none of the bidders are disadvantaged. If we find there is no merit in what the bidder is appealing about, then it is dismissed and that tender goes ahead. So in as much as guidance might be given, like I am saying, because it is our mandate to actually give guidance to the procurement entities in terms of policy and information, that is given. For the two tenders, one of them was an open tender, the fire tender I think we know and ZPPA gave a position on that one. For the other one, the Honeybee, it was a direct bid and we also gave our position on that one.”

Chella, who visibly having a time in responding to some questions, said the authority collaborated with law enforcement agencies whenever some procurement contracts were found wanting.

“Well we do come in, we conduct our investigations and whatever we find out, we are able to collaborate with relevant investigative wings and give them our decision. I think I have to point out that ZPPA does not have prosecuting powers and as a result all we can do is, if it is a bidder who is found wanting, that we have. We will be able to suspend them or bar them permanently,” she said.

“The procurement entity, we also have sanctions where we can transfer their functions or recommend that appropriate action be taken by the appointing authorities. I think you should appreciate that maybe where there is a controlling officer or any other member, they don’t fall under us, they are not employed by us.”

Chella avoided commenting on the Honeybee and Fire tender saga when quizzed further, saying those matters were still under investigation.

“Well we are aware that these are under investigation. So like I said, we give our part on the procurement side, we give them both and then we hand them over to the relevant authorities. We work very closely with ACC, and in the Auditor General’s Office, we have a memorandum of understanding with them, ACC we have a memorandum with them, DEC, we have a memorandum with them. So almost all the law enforcement agencies we do have a memorandum of understanding with them so that if these malpractices are brought to our attention, we quickly review them and we give our recommendation to the enforcing agencies,” Chella said.

“ZPPA has actually secured a number of convictions through ACC pertaining to procurement. The ones that have to do with abuse of power there have been convictions there, there was one which involved big people, so there have been quite a number. It’s just maybe they go through the court and the process is quite long.”

She said ZPPA was not a toothless organisation as perceived by others when asked whether the authority had ever suspended any erring bidders.

“We have yes and even bidders who have been suspended, and we do publish to all the PE’s to say this bidder has been barred permanently, this bidder has been suspended permanently or for a year or two depending on the period because we have to hear them. We need to hear them and the PE is also called and they give their side of the story because like I said we are dealing with the PEs, these bidders who went to procure. So we need to hear both sides when they appeal. So if they are found wanting and when we conduct an investigation, then we actually publish a circular to all PE’s as well as post on our website.” she said.

Asked on what steps the authority had taken to ensure that the President’s demand on procurement was upheld, Chella said that the authority had introduced a new act which ensured that the prices which procuring entities had is what was prevailing on the market.

“Like I said, the President is justified in trying to emphasize public procurement for all these things, the cost, the quality and delivery. Seeing that it accounts for such a huge chunk, 15 per cent of the GDP is quite high and the money that has been spent like in my opening speech, I mean we are talking about economic development here so ZPPA has contributed to these issues by having a law in place and brining issues that have to do with trying to control this unwarranted inflating of prices. In the new act, we have what I talked about, the price reasonableness so that we make sure that the prices procuring entities have is what is prevailing in the market,” said Chella.