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Sunday, March 28, 2010

Procurement controversies -- Zambia

The rot in public procurement
PUBLIC procurement is one of the main areas open to abuse and corruption in the country.

It is very clear that people in the public service are not ready to follow procedure and have resorted to shortcuts when it comes to procurement of goods and services. The tender procedures are very clear but in most cases these procedures are ignored with impunity. In other instances, guidelines are followed just for formality because the government already know the company they will award a particular contract.

It is more worrying that the government has actually turned to single sourcing as its preferred mode of procurement in most of these ministries. Deals are being sealed for big projects involving the supply of various goods, services, the construction of infrastructure and many other key works without following proper procedure.

We need to ensure that public service workers adhere to the guidelines set by the Zambia Public Procurement Authority (ZPPA) when contracting suppliers of goods and services. ZPPA cannot just be there to rubberstamp deals that are sealed at midnight by the powerful without their involvement. ZPPA cannot just be there to issue statements at press briefings, endorsing certain transactions even when the people in that institution know deep down in their hearts that they have nothing to do with a particular contract. We have seen this happen and it should not be tolerated.

The corruption in procurement is also disadvantaging other companies, which have the capacity to supply goods and services to the government. We have cases where projects that can be handled by small local companies are given to foreigners at a huge cost while in other cases, big contracts are given to companies or friends of the powerful whose briefcase companies’ capacity to deliver is questionable. You cannot have a country where the preoccupation of those running its institutions is to amass wealth, expect kickbacks, cuts and favours in every transaction.

We will not make any development progress as a country if we do not spend our country’s resources prudently. If the insatiable appetite to seal questionable deals at midnight in exchange for kickbacks, cuts and favours is not addressed, we will continue to lag behind as a country and poverty will continue to ravage our people. No matter how much we publicise the national anti-corruption policy and the implementation plan, corruption will reign if nothing is done to stop it in the various key areas such as procurement. We will continue to talk about unemployment, disease, floods, illiteracy, poor infrastructure, poor healthcare and education services for years to come if Rupiah and his friends do not stop the rot that is going on in procurement.

We know that contracting is the main way in which any government operates and spends public money. We know that these contracts are the vehicles for implementing public policy but these vehicles should not be used to amass wealth at the expense of poor Zambians. The country’s efficiency in delivering services and ensuring development to the people will largely depend on how much we control corruption in procurement and it is possible to do this.

We need to understand that corruption in procurement impedes economic development, affects the efficiency of public spending, creates waste and affects the quality of service provided and ultimately the quality of life.

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