FORMER ministry of youth, sport and child development permanent secretary Dr John Phiri yesterday struggled to explain why he went ahead to procure 50 mechanical horses and fuel tankers without authority from the Secretary to the Cabinet.

And Ministry of Youth, Sports and Arts Permanent Secretary Kangwa Chileshe says he has failed to reach out to Kinglong Motors Limited, a subsidiary of Higer Bus Limited, because the Chief Executive Officer is based in China and has no other representative.

Speaking during a PAC hearing, Dr Phiri said Cabinet guided the Ministry to proceed with alternative procurement systems required under the youth empowerment programme.

“On the authority to procure 50 fuel tankers, I want to submit that we had authority from the secretary to the cabinet and I think documentation should be there. I can ascertain that we sought authority from Cabinet for the same fuel tankers. The Secretary to the Cabinet guided us that if we were to do any further procurements, we had to come up with alternative procurement systems which we needed to use under the youth empowerment programme. For us to do this, we were required to seek authority from ZPPA and that is what we did. We had made a lot of consultations with ZPPA. I remember going there for more than 11 times to seek guidance on the same,” Dr Phiri said.

But Auditor General Director Ministerial Audits Patrick Simusokwe said Cabinet only gave authority to procure 25 fuel tankers.

“On 13th April, 2021, PS wrote to cabinet office to request for authority to procure 25 fuel tankers. This was after receiving 110 million in the 2021 allocation. On 20th April, 2021, cabinet office responded to the PS giving him authority to procure 25 fuel tankers. The PS on the same day 13th April wrote to ZPPA for authority to procure 50 tankers. So the authority from ZPPA is dated 16th April, 2021 while the authority from cabinet to procure 25 is dated 20th April, 2021. After receiving authority from cabinet for 25 fuel tankers, on 23rd the PS wrote cabinet again to change from 25 to 50 tankers. On the request that comes after the authority, there is no response from cabinet where they wrote to procure 50 after they got authority for 25. For the request to procure 50 tankers there is actually no evidence that cabinet received because it has no stamp,” said Simusokwe.

Nalolo PNUP member of parliament Imanga Wamunyima then asked Dr Phiri to provide evidence that cabinet approved the purchase of 50 fuel tankers as he was alleging.

In response, Dr Phiri said the ministry did not get back to Cabinet because it was already mandated to proceed.

“The fuel tankers that we purchased in total were 100. The first 50 were purchased before then there after, we purchased other fuel tankers. We were guided by cabinet office that going forward, we needed to just come up with alternative procurement systems within the Ministry and we were supposed to handle this administratively. We handled this administratively in the sense that when there was a need to escalate from 25 to 50 according to the demand, we had to get authority from ZPPA. We did not need to get back to cabinet because we were already mandated to do the procurements ourselves,” said Dr Phiri.

“We did not get authority from cabinet office that is why we wrote to ZPPA to seek how we could procure additional tankers. There is a letter to that effect. After procurement, we reported to cabinet that we had procured 50 and for us to pay, we sought for authority from the secretary to the cabinet to pay for the fuel tankers. I think I needed again to refresh my mind because I am just getting these documents now. But to the best of my knowledge, I think I believe I followed the rightful procedure to do the procurement of 50 fuel tankers in my view. Unless otherwise, I need to be guided where I went wrong. Maybe head procurement can come in but I think I did what I could and that which was best for the institution at that time. So I think I should be guided because I do not know where the issue is.”

Meanwhile, nominated member of Parliament Likando Mufalali told Dr Phiri that he was wrong because he did not follow the right procurement procedures.

“PS where you went wrong is you were supposed to apply to cabinet first before you went to ZPPA. You cut the corners. Why did you have to go to ZPPA first to procure the trucks? That is where you went wrong. What should start first? Is it not the cabinet to give you permission to buy those trucks? You then have to get permission to single source. And we are wondering why you had to single source because in the first place, you said the president wanted them urgently but what motivated you in the second phase to start single sourcing?” asked Mufalali.

Meanwhile, Dr Phiri came under fire after he tried to justify why Kinglong Motors Limited was single sourced when there were other suppliers which had cheaper bids.

PAC chairperson Warren Mwambazi had to intervene by advising committee members to appreciate Dr Phiri because he had been constantly available to provide answers to the queries as opposed to other former controlling officers who had opted to stay away.

Meanwhile, Ministry of Youth, Sports and Arts Permanent Secretary Kangwa Chileshe said former permanent secretary Joe Kapembwa was still not accepting his calls.

“Chair, as I said yesterday, the former PS is not accepting our calls even after reaching out to him. Additionally, the CEO of Kinglong is in China. Nonetheless we did ask if there was an officer available from the suppliers’ office and we did make a request,” said Chileshe.

And in conclusion, Mwambazi said the committee would proceed to write to the Speaker of the National Assembly in order to summon Kapembwa to appear before the Committee on Privileges, Absences, and Support Services.