When he featured on a Prime Television programme earlier this week, Mr Kelvin Bwalya Fube made very thought provoking revelations about the real perpetrators of corruption in government.
His observation is that corruption is concentrated in the public procurement wings of government ministries where civil servants are getting rich from selling information to contractors.
“Anybody you go to in government called a civil servant who is in procurement is on a get rich scheme. They are selling government information to dealers within the government, it’s insider trading. We complain of foreigners taking over contracts, how do foreigners know how to prepare big documents?” Fube asked.
“Half of the bid documents are prepared by Zambians who work for government. They know the information; they design the questions then they go and sale the information. The Chinese hire them to prepare the document, so the procurement officer prepares his own question paper, answers his own question paper then he goes and sits in his official capacity and now starts ticking and then he says this is the winner of the bid. Its corruption.”
Mr Fube’s observation is very accurate. Almost all the companies that win government tenders today use civil servants to prepare their bid documents. In some instances, these civil servants actually deal with more than just one company. They get money from a Chinese company, an Indian company and a Zambian company, secretly promising each one of them that they would do all the paper work. Then they go to sit and start slotting figures in accordance with the tender requirements.
The one who promised a bigger kickback with a hefty down payment is the one who wins the tender. Unfortunately, Zambian companies don’t have the capacity to pay the civil servants better than the foreigners. One per cent of a US$50 million contract awarded to a Chinese company is US$500, 000 or K5 million. If five procurement officers were involved in the deal, they will share, at least one million kwacha each, depending on the seniority. This is how civil servants are building mansions in Chalala and Silverest.
Mr Fube also said there is no one to stop this trend because the bosses are involved in the same criminality. Again, he is right. In fact, the bosses don’t even get involved in the risks of preparing bid documents. They simply issue instructions to junior officers so that they can retain a high level of deniability while their kickback goes straight into an offshore account.
The reason why we don’t have internal controls to create sanity in the public procurement sector is because there is a lot of political will to the contrary. This is how campaigns are financed, so the top political leadership in the country is sponsoring this trend. Those are the stubborn monkeys in the maize field while the juniors who prepare bid documents are simple pests that can be sprayed away.
This is the reason why in our opinion about the fire tender scandal, we demanded to know the man inside government whom GrandView International committed adultery with. Our position is that if there was corruption, someone must have been corrupted; who received the bribe? Who prepared the bid documents for the supply of Fire tenders? If there was corruption in the supply of Ambulances, who was involved in government and who prepared the bid documents?
These are the questions we must be asking on every suspicious procurement because it is pointless to point fingers at the private companies while ignoring the major role that a government official played. There is no aggravated robbery in any of these procurement scandals. What is there is collusion, and by definition, collusion means more than one party being involved.
We have observed that a majority of people who ask us, the media, to ‘investigate’ and expose corruption in the procurement system bring us leads or tips that relate to the company which won the tender.
Experience tells us that in some instances, such informants have hidden interests. Some of such people are linked to companies that lost a tender and are on a mission to scandalize the other company which beat them in the game of corruption.
Such informants blow the whistle very carefully so that they protect the government officials involved because they all use the same civil servants to prepare bid documents, and they don’t want them fired for future purposes.
This is the matrix of the corruption that exists in Zambia and among Zambians. Just like the case is among politicians, powerful businessmen consider the media as a tool for fighting their corporate rivals. This, in fact, is what has propelled a trend among powerful individuals in the country to suddenly start buying media organisations. They have no interest in furthering journalism or media freedom, what they want is influence and an attack dog.
This is how a banana republic is created.