AT THE 17th Cabinet Meeting at State House on Thursday July, 23, the Executive approved “The Public Procurement Bill, 2020” for publication and introduction in Parliament during the next sitting. This means the government is proposing to repeal and replace the Public Procurement Act of 2018 in order to tighten procurement laws and strengthen regulatory authorities.

“The repeal and replacement of the Public Procurement Act of 2008, was necessitated due to the need to enhance legislation on public procurement by including provisions that will strengthen enforcement mechanisms in the regulation of procurements, while also enhancing the participation of citizens in public procurement, through the use of electronic systems in the process.
The strengthening of the oversight and regulatory role of the Zambia Public Procurement Authority is also emphasised in the Bill and that this is cardinal in public procurement. The Bill also allows for Zambians’ participation in matters pertaining to procurement as part of ensuring Zambians fully contribute to the development of their country,” read the statement from Cabinet Office.

This move could not have come at a better time than now when we are discussing scandalous procurement tender such as the one awarded to Honey Bee Pharmacy Limited. The question we must now ask is, if enacted, how will “The Public Procurement Bill, 2020” fix the procurement flaws such as the ones we have been listing in our past editorial comments?

Some may argue that Zambia lacks realistic procurement laws or strong ethical guidelines for controlling officers. But we have said it before that there is no point in having strong laws when lawbreakers are in charge of government institutions.

We do not think that strong procurement laws can change anything in Zambia under the PF administration. Scandalous procurements such as the Honey Bee tender from the Ministry of Health did not go through because the Public Procurement Act of 2008 was weak, but because it was disregarded. We already have some good laws in this country which have publicly been disregarded by those who control public resources.

This is why regulatory Authorities such as Zambia Public Procurement Authority (ZPPA) end up enforcing laws according to the desires of those who are in government. In Zambia, the law is what the PF says it is, not what is in the Constitution. So of what value will a strong Public Procurement Act fix? Even if we repeal the entire Public Procurement Act of 2008 and replace it with a new law, how will that help, given our government leaders who don’t care about the law?

Imagine having an Attorney General who says yes to giving a poor individual a US$17 million worth of a government contract despite all the flaws identified in the process of arriving at the decision. We demonstrated in our recent editorial opinion that the Zambia Medical Regulatory Authority gave a wholesale pharmaceutical licence to an entity that failed inspection, and that entity was not even a registered company, yet it won the tender. With all the revelations we have made, the government and the Ministry of Health has remained unmoved.The tender has not been cancelled and there is no known investigation that is in progress.

So what will this Public Procurement Bill 2020 try to fix in such a country? Laws are not respected in Zambia. The Judiciary and the Constitution don’t serve their purpose because law breakers are in government. We have a President who is a lawbreaker, and previous incidents have shown us how such a Head of State affects the running of government. Our readers must remember that we have a President who is on record saying he does not support the ruling made by the Constitutional Court against ministers who illegally stayed in office after dissolution of Parliament in 2016. The President broke the law by failing to obey the Constitution and he also broke the law by failing to protect the Constitution.

Since the President has no respect for the Judiciary, how can his ministers obey law? How then can the permanent secretaries, directors and procurement officers follow procurement laws when awarding government contracts? It’s not possible, that is why we insist on sober leadership. We need a change of mindset at the top. You cannot be making laws that you yourself are refusing to obey. The Public Procurement Act is not for the opposition or private companies to follow, it is for government institutions that spend taxpayers’ money. So if those in government don’t follow the rules, it’s pointless to have them.