DISASTER Management and Mitigation Unit (DMMU) National Coordinator Dr Gabriel Pollen has written to acting Secretary to Cabinet Patrick Kangwa, asking him to help locate his predecessor, Chanda Kabwe, who has been summoned by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) to respond to queries cited in the Auditor General’s report.

And PAC has heard that DMMU received presidential directives to procure reusable face masks costing K50,450,850 but did not follow the right procedure in identifying suppliers.

Appearing before the PAC, Monday, Dr Pollen said he had been making efforts to contact Chanda but he did not know his whereabouts.

He revealed that the acting Secretary to Cabinet indicated to him, Monday morning, that his predecessor had been in and out of hospital for the past few days.

“I just want to make a statement on the invitation made to the former National Coordinator. The Unit failed to contact the former National Coordinator, maybe he had changed his address or numbers and we were not aware of his whereabouts. So I wrote to acting Secretary to Cabinet to say can you help us locate this gentleman so that he can appear before the committee. Speaking to acting Secretary to Cabinet this morning, he indicated that unfortunately the former National Coordinator has been feeling poorly and he was in and out of hospital for the past six days. To that effect, he showed me the correspondence,” Dr Pollen said.

“I think many concerns can be addressed by the previous National Coordinator. We need to find out if he is incapacitated that he cannot avail himself to this Committee. In that regard, we have sent a message to acting Secretary to Cabinet who has been in contact with the previous National Coordinator to send a virtual link of this Committee. My view would be that there must be other mechanisms put in place to ensure that officers are contacted and entirely placed on us. If my registry tells me that we cannot reach this person, what powers do I have to move on that? We will review some of the shortcomings that have been reviewed here and appropriate action will be taken on the officers concerned.”

But nominated member of parliament Likando Mufalali wondered whether Kabwe was critically ill that he could not join the meeting virtually.

“Chair, is the former National Coordinator incapacitated to such a point that he cannot open his jaws? He can be put on Zoom so that he can say something. Is he in such a condition that he cannot attend the meeting virtually?” asked Mufalali.

And Nalolo PNUP member of parliament Imanga Wamunyima said Kabwe needed to present proof of his illness to the committee.

Meanwhile, DMMU Purchasing Supplies Officer Constance Chigali said the institution received presidential directives to procure reusable facemasks costing K50,450,850.

The latest Auditor General’s report has revealed that there was no transparency or terms of reference to indicate how suppliers were identified, rendering the procurement of reusable facemasks costing K50,450,850 irregular.

“It was around 2020 after the first directive that was given by the President that DMMU, together with Ministry of Education make available reusable face masks to schools before 1st June, 2020. As procurement, we relied on the instructions that we received from management that we go ahead and procurement facemasks as directed. Since it was a new procurement, we had no background on past prices and what was prevailing on the market. We did not know what would be economical in terms of price. Before we set out the K10 per mask price, we searched the market by inquiring about other suppliers that had information on how much each mask would cost,” Chigali said.

“From the quotations which were collected, we got an average price of K10. There was a risk of suppliers taking advantage of the situation in terms of what they would offer. So after we determined on average that each mask would cost K10 we went ahead to seek authority from the procurement committee so that we could go ahead and procure the facemasks at K10. The instructions to procure the reusable facemasks came through management. Procurement does not start a procurement process without any given instruction. So following the presidential directive, management and other committees sat to find means and ways.”

But Wamunyima argued that DMMU engaged in an irregular procurement process which was highly questionable.

And in response, Dr Pollen said he asked the procurement department to produce proof of adverts calling for suppliers, but that they was nowhere to be seen.

“When we were coming up with these responses, I also asked my set of questions being new to the office. I asked my team to guide me if I was wrong on the price that was selected to procure these masks and the emergency of these masks. My understanding is that there was a market research that was undertaken to come up with an average price which was then used to procure each facemask. That is the understanding that I have. On the TV and radio recording adverts to call for suppliers, I raised that question to ask if we have any recordings and we have been trying to unearth those recordings but obviously, we are here now,” said Dr Pollen.

Meanwhile, DMMU Chief Accountant Isaac Nkhoma struggled to explain why the institution has failed to operationalise the National Disaster Relief Trust Fund.

“I will indicate that we will move at supersonic speed. The structure of the Trust is all done. What is missing are the guidelines. The unit in the course of last year committed to draft the guidelines which are supposed to be validated by the treasury to ensure that all guidelines are in tandem with existing legislation. Once these guidelines are validated then the Trust Fund will be fully operational,” said Nkhoma.

“What we will be waiting for is just to mobilise funds and execute them according to the guidelines that will be validated. I will honestly say we did not make any written follow up during the period. But one on one follow ups have been made with the office of the Accountant General. We may not produce evidence that we made a follow up because we did not have any written follow up.”

In conclusion, PAC chairperson Warren Mwambazi directed that all former officers at DMMU needed to appear before the committee on Tuesday, March 1, 2022 without fail.

“We will find out what exactly transpired so that we can adequately advise and proceed. We seem to be making very little progress. With the timings we have, it is important that we quickly run through some of these things, close them and have a position. We need to address these issues that have been cited in the Auditor General’s report. All the former officers at DMMU need to appear without fail. If they are sick, let them be admitted virtually. We shall take a position as a committee,” said Mwambazi.