WE have taken note that the Human Rights Defenders Commission of Malawi, together with other interest groups and organisations in that country, are fighting the award of a US$2.2 million tender for the supply of 35 ambulances to Grandview International, a Zambian owned company that is behind the controversial US$42 million fire trucks tender. According to these Malawian organisations, this is a raw deal, which smells corruption, because Toyota Malawi is offering the same quantity of ambulances at US$25,000 less.
We can only laugh and at the same time admire our brothers and sisters in Malawi as it would appear that they have not yet reached the levels of procurement corruption that Zambia is currently suffering from. This protest from Human Rights activists and their call for the Anti-Corruption Bureau to launch an investigation also tells a story that our neighbours are vigilant and are eager to uproot all forms of suspected corruption, so that their government doesn’t lose taxpayers’ money. This is good.
But we hope that our Malawian brothers and sisters are embarking on this fight out of conviction that the US$2.2 million tender for the supply of 35 ambulances was awarded corruptly, and not simply because Grandview is a controversial company in Zambia. If their desire is to get the ambulances elsewhere where they are cheaper, that is understood. We say this because we have noted that some Zambians with vested interests are taking advantage of this development and are trying to sway public attention from what has been happening at the Ministry of Health in Lusaka.
Of course, there is no argument about the fact that Grandview is a controversial company in Zambia. The fire tender deal was so bad that for many years to come, it will be used as a reference point of suspected grand corruption in procurement. However, what Grandview is offering to do for the Malawian government under US$2.2 million is something we would only admire in Zambia, given our experience on a similar tender.
In 2017, the Ministry of Health in Zambia awarded a tender for the supply of 50 ambulances of similar specifications to a bidder at a cost of over US$14 million. These ambulances were pegged at US$288,000 each, and the government went ahead to pay despite public outcry. At that price, it means our Malawian colleagues would be getting seven ambulances from their US$2.2 million and not the desired quantity of 35 units. A company that offers to supply 35 ambulances at US$2.2 million will spend about US$63,000 on one unit. This is why we can laugh with envy at our Malawian relatives.
But that is a Malawian issue for Malawian citizens. The question Zambians must now ask is: how did we spend US$288,000 on an ambulance that is worth four to five times less? This development in Malawi is an indictment on the Zambian government and the Ministry of Health. Private companies have taken advantage of the procurement system in Zambia because corruption has been institutionalised. Instead of crying wolf about the Malawi ambulance case, the people of Zambia must demand for an investigation into our own ambulance procurement scandal which caused our country to lose millions of dollars.
We are concerned that the Ministry of Health in Zambia has become a hub of corrupt activities. Public officials who have been charged with the responsibility of safeguarding the lives of citizens are selfishly making bad decisions which have life threatening consequences on the people. Questionable tenders such as the supply of ambulances at US$288,000 are being done at the expense of supplying quality drugs to public health facilities.
Although there are complaints arising, Malawi has shown us that these companies, which are defrauding the Zambian government, do not act exploitatively in other countries. We can bet anyone that if that tender for the supply of 35 ambulances was advertised by the Zambian government, no single company would bid for less than US$3 million, not even Grandview itself. Why is this so? The answer is that in Zambia, the corrupt are in government and their accomplices are the company owners whom they collude with to syphon taxpayers’ money.
That is why our opinion on the famous Grandview fire tender scandal placed the blame on the criminals in government who saw it fit to spend US$1 million on one fire truck. Grandview did not put a gun to anyone’s head. Like we said, private companies are established to make profit; the more, the better for them. That’s why we have controlling officers in government to act as gatekeepers so that corrupt private companies do not subject public resources to abuse. Sadly, our controlling officers are the three star generals of corruption. Shame!