THE Zambia Institute of Purchasing and Supply (ZIPS) is calling for the creation of the office of the Procurement General whom procurement officers can be reporting to. This, it says, will also take care of some unfair corruption allegations over government procurement because there will be someone to explain the processes followed.

“The highest [procurement] position one can be in government is deputy director of procurement. We don’t have any director of procurement in government. It creates a very big problem because then the procurement officer is left to some level of manipulation because he has nowhere to report to. If I am head of procurement in the Ministry of Energy, for example, I report to a PS, so if I have a problem with the PS, I don’t have anywhere to report to. The control of funds in government, there will be finance, internal audit and procurement. So, the finance department is very well protected with the Accountant General at PS-level, Internal audit very well protected at PS-level, procurement has been left without any person to help them or look after,” says ZIPS president Chibwe Mwelwa.

Everything that Mr Mwewa said is correct, apart from the part where he is suggesting that creating the office of Procurement General will deter procurement-related challenges or corruption. This is very wrong and misleading. To say that junior procurement officers are being subjected to manipulation because they have no one to report to is an attempt to instill false hope in the citizenry.

To say the World Bank and other international financial institutions may not help Zambia with funding for certain projects because of the absence of this office is one thing, but to allege that the rampant corruption going on associated with government tenders is as a consequence of not having a Procurement General’s office is a totally different issue. Unless the Purchasing and Supply Institute boss has not been reading the news.

Our newspaper spent the last couple of months detailing the criminality that has been going on under procurement in the Ministry of Health. If Mr Mwelwa is the passionate leader that he should be in his sector of purchasing and supply, surely, he must have read the shocking revelations that we have been digging out of the Ministry’s procurement department.

We have been telling a story of how government awarded a US $17 million contract for the supply of medicines to an individual, who had no registered company at PACRA. The Zambia Public Procurement Agency (ZPPA) and all the regulatory authorities, who deal in the manufacturing and wholesaling of medicines, were involved or consulted before the awarding of this illegal tender to an individual called Imran Lunat, a sole trader located in Kamwala.

That’s not all. We reached out to the Office of the Attorney General and we also found out that he was fully aware of this illegality, but he confidently and authoritatively told us that there was nothing sinister about awarding a US $17 million tender to an individual. Our investigation revealed that this gentleman, who is behind a business name called Honey Bee Pharmacy, failed ZAMRA inspection, but the chief government legal advisor insists that this tender was awarded in accordance with the law. The gentleman himself doesn’t know how this contract was awarded to him, saying he is not even the person in charge, yet it’s his name appearing on the documents.

Now, perhaps Mr Mwelwa and President Edgar Lungu who was agreeing to this proposal can tell us: how would the Procurement General’s office help in such a scandal where you can clearly see that top government officials and those in charge of regulatory authorities colluded to illegally award this contract with impunity? How would that office stop such scandals?

It needs to be stated here that creating this office will simply add one more senior government official to the corruption matrix. We are very certain that this office will not be allowed to operate autonomously; the politicians will make sure that the individual in charge is compromised, thereby, recruiting him/her into the corruption syndicate. Isn’t this the same manipulation that Mr Mwelwa is complaining about?

We agree with the views shared by the outgoing acting Financial Intelligence Centre director general Clement Kapalu, when he was asked about measures that can be taken to reduce corruption and loss of government resources in the procurement sector. He observed that corruption cannot be eradicated unless the people holding controlling offices change their mindset about governance. Mr Kapalu argues that it’s all about the culture. When people take their opportunity to serve in the public service as a passport to wealth creation, there is no law that can be created, which they will respect.

Mr Kapalu is absolutely right. The regulatory authorities are there, oversight institutions are in place, laws have been enacted, one after another, to protect public resources but the culture of responsible governance, the spirit of transparency, the moral conscience for prudence and the willingness to be accountable is not there. What’s the point in creating more laws and government positions when people don’t want to change their mindsets?

And President Edgar Lungu talks about creating this office to oversee all government procurements in order to restore people’s faith in public transactions. Huh! What useless rhetoric! Which people is he referring to? Mr Lungu is a lawyer, does he think people in Zambia have faith in his understanding of the law? How many times has he misled the public through his interpretation of the Constitution? How many criminal procurement transactions have been approved by his administration? It’s almost like we have no President in office, everyone is behaving as they please.

In Nsenga we say, “wakake okaleka lini”, Bembas would say, “uwaba nako (akamusango) teti akaleke” and the English people say, bad manners die hard. A thief is a thief. Those who are stealing from the poor people of Zambia under this PF government cannot be stopped by the presence of a Procurement General. These people are stealing millions of dollars from defence tenders, what can a Procurement General do?