TRANSPARENCY International Zambia (TIZ) says government and party officials must have nothing to do with the procurement process.

Commenting on the K6 billion that was paid by NRFA to PF-aligned road construction companies and some associated foreign firms, TIZ president Sampa Kalungu said the procurement process must vet any conflict of interest.

“One area that is of a major concern in the procurement process is that of affiliate, a phenomenon that shouldn’t be in the qualifying equation with tendering process unless the procuring entity is the member’s affiliation. The procurement process must vet any conflict of interest. In fact, government and party officials must have nothing to do with the procuring process. If party officials or government officials by any chance are qualified to bid, they should clearly and openly declare their interest so that they are excused from the process of procurement,” Kalungu said.

“If K6 billion was paid by NRFA to construction companies owned by PF and Chinese firms and the government suspects that some of such contracts were not given on merit, through the Law enforcement agencies, such contracts must be reviewed. In situations where the law enforcement agencies hold unexamined beliefs of the existence of fraudulent actions then actions such as further investigations can be carried out. However, this must be done on strong inference.”

He said cases of abuse of authority must not be let scot free.

“Remember, the hands of the LEAs are quite busy with a number cases they have picked up since the coming in of the new dawn government. We empathise with the LEAs. We however would want to stress that simply because the hands of the LEA are very busy with cases of corruption, theft, abuse of office and authority, such cases must never be let scot free, they should be fully investigated,” he said.

Kalungu stated that in an event that a contractor submitted false information, action such as revocation of a contract must be taken.

“Again, the LEA or government must not blanketly regard all that happened in PF to be bad and full of corruption; individual cases must be put to the test and where the test fails (e.g. the contractor is not qualified, submitted false information at tendering, lacked equipment, does not have minimum requirement, etc) appropriate action such as revocation of the contract where possible must be done. Where of course the test is negative, encourage such arrangements to be delivered as per contractual obligations. But so far there, based on first sight or first impression, there is likely to be many questionable contracts, which must attract the interest of the law enforcement agencies,” Kalungu said.

He observed the lack of political will to enforce procurement provisions.

“The other issue lacking really is the political will to enforce the procurement provisions of the act of 2020, and the procurement regulations of 2021. These two pieces of guidance provide a good ground to deal with some of these challenges. It could appear that the override to these provisions is triggered by vested interests within the system. There is need to heighten political will by ensuring that oversight institutions are given the necessary support to provide the requisite oversight for all procurement processes,” he said.

“This entails including critical institutions on procurement processes by procuring entities. Further, government should ensure that, unless when absolutely necessary, single sourcing or preferred procurements are regulated. Procurements should be done with integrity, transparency and accountablity.”

Kalungu observed that the most scandals eminated from lack of monitoring of contract management.

“Government should also strengthen post contract award monitoring. Most of the scandals we have seen or heard of regarding procurement emanate from there being weak or lack of monitoring of contract management post the award of contracts. This has led to varying, amending or deliberate none execution of obligations in the contracts leading payment of penalties by government. Operationalization of the ZPPA Act 2022 and regulation. ZPPA should be accorded the support to play its regulatory role in public procurement. Regulation in this regard should also include providing oversight on the contracts yet to be awarded and those that would have already been awarded so that procuring entities are made to accountable on the execution of contracts,” he observed.

Meanwhile, Kalungu said law enforcement agencies must pay attention to fronting.

“The [issue which] Law enforcement agencies must pay attention to is that of fronting. Fronting is a deliberate circumvention or attempted circumvention of the law regarding procurement which involves reliance on data or claims of compliance based on misrepresentations of facts. We have noticed that some politicians and government officers, in a bid to hide their identity, use other people’s names or companies. While fronting is a little more complicated to investigate, it must be given critical attention as this area of deception seems to have been common in the past and it is definitely going to show its ugly face in the future,” said Kalungu.