IN his first-ever television interview since leaving government, the immediate past Attorney General Musa Mwenye expressed concern in the manner the government is fighting corruption in the procurement system. Featuring on Diamond TV, State Counsel Mwenye said it was wrong for the government to award a US$17 million contract to an individual. He was referring to the controversial Ministry of Health medical supply tender awarded to Honey Bee Pharmacy.
“The procurement system is only as strong as the people who insist on observing the rules. We have just heard that an individual was given a contract for millions of dollars. When have you ever heard, Costa, that Musa Mwenye as an individual was given a contract as Musa Mwenye for millions of dollars? As I know it, procurement procedure is that a company should have been in existence for a certain number of years, that they should have some bank statements, they should give certain documents. I have not, in my time in government, I can’t remember endorsing the grant of a contract to an individual. So for me, it maybe new procedure, it maybe things that we haven’t seen yet, maybe new law but it’s just something that never happened in government, it’s a new thing to some of us. What if the individual dies three days after receiving that advance? What happens? That is the reason why you give to an established company that has a track record because a company is more than one individual,” said Mwenye.
The caution from State Counsel Mwenye is timely. This Ministry of Health scandal is one which should not be easily swept under the carpet and forgotten because it sets a very bad precedent about the procurement laws and norms in this country. We say this because the office of the Attorney General is the last in the line of defence when it comes to public procurement. When the Attorney General objects to the awarding of a tender on grounds that the process was marred with irregularities, it gives the regulatory authorities, as well as the law enforcement agencies, the much needed will power to act in the interest of good governance. But when the Attorney General gives consent to an illegality, it creates leeway for criminal transactions to take shape in many other government contracts.
In our opinion, the incumbent Attorney General erred in his exercise of authority on this Health Centre Kits supply tender. What we don’t know is whether he was acting on instructions from authorities above him or he opted to pay a blind eye to the irregularities in this scandal for his own benefit. What is clear is that he made a mistake, and we are on a mission to prove this.
When he was asked to explain his role in this tender, Mr Kalaluka said:
“The first time l cleared the contract, it showed HoneyBee Pharmacy Limited. But subsequently, the Ministry wrote to me availing all the documents submitted in support of the tender herein and all such documents do not bear “Limited”. The documents availed to me include: (a) receipt for purchase of bid documents (b) ZRA tax registration certificate (c) ZRA tax clearance certificate (d) certificate of registration for Honeybee Pharmacy (e) pharmaceutical Licence from Zambia Medicines Regulatory Authority. All these documents submitted for the tender had Honeybee Pharmacy, WITHOUT ‘limited’. To correct the error, l have since advised the Ministry of Health that a Deed of Rectification need to be executed to change the name from Honeybee Pharmacy Limited to Imrat Lunat t/a Honeybee Pharmacy. In case of liability, government would pursue the sole trader and not the limited liability company because the contract is with the sole trader. It’s not unusual to award a contract to a sole trader.”
Like a judge who delivers a defective judgment, Mr Kalaluka’s due diligence on the Honey Bee tender and his subsequent approval may have been accepted as a binding decision, but it does not make it right. The taxpayers of this country are being forced to accept a wrong action from Mr Kalaluka simply because of the high office he holds, and we find that to be against the tenets of accountability.
We have shown in our previous stories and opinions on this issue that the Ministry of Health went against some provisions of the Public Procurement Act. In fact, some of the recommendations of the Zambia Public Procurement Authority (ZPPA) were ignored. Upon seeing that a tender worth hundreds of millions of kwacha was being awarded to a limited company and later changed to an individual, our Attorney General should have raised a red flag. He should have taken interest to learn the process that the Ministry of Health used to arrive at this decision.
We have done our homework and we are ready to demonstrate that the tender which the Attorney General proudly endorsed was riddled with irregularities. The irregularities are so glaring that State Counsel Kalaluka could have easily spotted them had he been acting in the interest of good governance.
We have gathered a list of irregularities in this tender, starting with the licensing, registration, pharmaceutical inspection results and the role that the Zambia Medicines Regulatory Authority played in this saga. We will ask pertinent questions that the Ministry of Health, the Attorney General’s Chambers, ZPPA and ZAMRA should answer.
More in tomorrow’s edition.