TRANSPARENCY International Zambia (TIZ) president Sampa Kalungu says the Disaster Management and Mitigation Unit (DMMU) needs to conduct a debt verification exercise as it endeavours to clear the K394,686,450 debt accrued from the supply and delivery of face masks.

Recently, DMMU national coordinator Dr Gabriel Pollen has asked the Secretary to Treasury to give the institution over K600 million which will clear outstanding debts owed to suppliers, motor vehicle service companies and to actualise various projects.

And in an interview, Kalungu said there was need to ascertain the actual debt owed to the suppliers, as certain procurement procedures were not adhered to because it was an emergency.

“It has always been our view that since we spend money on auditing different Ministries and different government agencies, we should therefore invest in also following up what they come up with in these reports with law enforcement agencies. For instance, on the issue of the procurement for covid materials. Emergencies render cases of corruption to happen. Quite often people see that since these things are being procured under emergencies, therefore you can flout certain procurement procedures and rules. So a number of things are overlooked when there are certain emergencies like that,” he said.

“In this case, even when the procurement of covid materials was under emergency, there are certain things that were supposed to be done with proper records. If you look at the Auditor General’s report, even at our report as TIZ, we warned about that. Things to do with money, whether it is an emergency, records and authorisation should be in good order. We would not have cases where monies are spent without good authorisation. We saw a number of procurements being done and contracts being given to those who were not actually qualified to supply certain covid materials. For us, that was out of an emergency.”

Kalungu said procuring facemasks as an emergency did not mean that DMMU could not identify qualified suppliers to supply covid material.

“Emergency does not mean you can actually give those who are not qualified or registered suppliers. This means you are adding problems on top of emergencies. We saw that happen and that is inexcusable. The emergency that was there did not mean that we could not identify qualified suppliers to supply covid materials such as facemasks quickly. The bigger case which is not even an emergency is that we have monies that are released to go for procurement of certain goods such as facemasks and yet they were not used for that purpose. In the end, they commit the Ministry and government in that sense and the people of Zambia to debt which we are not supposed to have to over K394 million. That is not acceptable,” he said.

“In that sense we would want to see that such people who were involved in that process, can be tracked, investigated and prosecuted. Once we successfully prosecute such cases, they become a deterrent for would-be offenders. Of late, we have noted that a lot of cases that are in play are those that were committed during the previous government. We feel this is something that the new dawn government needs to take seriously. They promised to fight corruption of the past, present and future. We hope they get to the bottom line of all these cases. As TIZ we will be keenly following the corruption fight and help where possible.”

Kalungu said all public procurement departments needed to be held accountable in the handling of public resources.

“During the investigations, we know what the amount that has to be paid to the suppliers is according to the invoices. Even invoices have to be investigated because we generally know how much facemasks cost. We do not expect facemasks worth K50 to cost K300. So the investigations should also find out the exact procurement costs and if it was the right price so as to avoid any overpayments. We can even go further and find out who else was benefiting from the supply and delivery of these facemasks,” said Kalungu.

“It could be that I am the supplier but you find that the people benefiting from my supply are the same people who are authorising procurement processes. The debt verification exercise is very important and investigative wings should not only concentrate on the surface of the cases. Procurement departments in all Ministries need to be held accountable as they handle public resources.”