ZIMBABWE’S public procurement process has been a subject of fierce debate and criticism due to the alleged corruption that has been characterising the processes.
Plans to modernise State procurement have received the blessings of President Robert Mugabe and a US$2 million grant to support the modernisation exercise has been availed by the World Bank.
The African Development Bank (AfDB) is also keen to fund the exercise which is expected to bring transparency into procurement.
Last week, The Sunday Mail Business reporter Africa Moyo (AM) spoke to Deputy Chief Secretary to the Office of the President and Cabinet, Dr Ray Ndhlukula to get an insight on what is presently happening behind the scenes.
AM: We understand that the World Bank has agreed to extend a $1,3 million grant and fund a $600 000 technical assistance programme from the Zimbabwe Reconstruction Fund (Zimref) for the public procurement modernisation project. It is also understood that a further $2million will come in the second phase for roll-out of an e-procurement pilot in key ministries and agencies. Can you tell us more about this and when the money will be availed to Zimbabwe?
RN: Honorable Patrick Chinamasa, the Minister of Finance (and Economic Development) for the Government of Zimbabwe signed a grant agreement for the public procurement modernisation with the World Bank on 30 October, 2015.
The grants will initially support institutional and legislative reform and capacity building. The other component is on improving readiness for e-procurement. This involves the development of an e-procurement strategy, business process engineering and system design and e-procurement guidelines.
The reform of public procurement will eventually achieve the adoption of e-procurement to enhance transparency and efficiency in Government procurement. The total World Bank Grant that became effective in December 2015 is US$2million.
The fund has so far been utilised in contracting the Institutional and Legislative Reform consulting firm offering technical assistance in the development of the legal instruments and for sensitisation and consultative workshops with stakeholders that include parliamentarians, the business sector, civic society, local authorities, parastatals and central Government.
Support for the project is not limited to World Bank.
The Africa Development Bank also committed to support the public procurement reform and consultations are in progress to determine the extent of their support.
AM: When can the nation expect the roll-out of the public procurement modernisation project?
RN: Modernisation of public procurement is going to be achieved when e-procurement has been implemented. The foundation for the e-procurement project is the institutional and legislative reform and consultations have been completed. The Bill is expected to commence the Parliament review process within the first quarter of 2016 with a target for ascension by the His Excellency the President, Cde R. G Mugabe by June 2016.
The immediate task for the Government is the reform of the institutional and legislative framework to facilitate adoption of e-procurement, a component of the broader e-government initiative.
AM: What advantages will accrue to the country through the modernisation of public procurement?
RN: The Government is currently undertaking a number of economic reforms in the context of ‘ease of doing business’ in order to transform the business environment to be more transparent, fair, honest, cost effective and competitive.
It further recognises that public procurement is critical in achieving its national priorities and goals of strengthening governance and accountability in the management of public resources while improving public service delivery.
In an era of fiscal austerity as is obtaining in the country, ensuring efficiency and integrity in public procurement is essential to ensure sound public service delivery and maintain citizens’ trust in Government.
His Excellency the President Cde R. G Mugabe in the State of the Nation Address on 25th August 2015 and at the Occasion of the Official Opening of the 3rd Session of the 8th Parliament of Zimbabwe gave the impetus to reform the State procurement.
Further, as part of modernisation of public procurement systems to enhance the performance of the public sector in line with the wider Ease of Doing Business project and realignment of all laws with the Constitution of Zimbabwe, a reform of the State Procurement Board was necessary.
The reform is also aimed at professionalising and modernising procurement systems to fight corruption that is rampant in the sector.
The Government also needs to tap into the potential of public procurement at a strategic policy level to advance socio-economic and environmental objectives after the review of the legislative and institutional architecture for the national procurement system.
Economic development in the country will only be achieved by optimal usage of the available resources in the interest of the public, leading to value for money service provisions to all stakeholders, including Government.
This is achieved by fostering institutional responsibility and personal accountability in the public sector that will inevitably help stimulate a healthy business environment, promoting innovation and competition.
The reform seeks to separate regulatory and operational functions to remove the dual role of the State Procurement Board.
It shall decentralise procurement activities to procuring entities whilst strengthening policing, monitoring and evaluation function of the new Procurement Authority. Professionalisation shall ensure that the procurement process shall be managed by procurement experts within procuring entities to limit decision making under undue influence.
Procurement practitioners and procurement management units shall be issued licenses to practice to enhance competence and integrity in the public procurement process and a code of ethics shall be provided.
The Bill shall seek to strengthen sanction and remedies relating to malpractices in the procurement proceedings by outlining actions that would be considered as offences for both staff within procuring entities and the suppliers.
AM: There have also been reports of abuse of procurement process by the SPB officials. What has been done to address the challenges at SPB?
RN: To start with, the Procurement Act in its current format provided a procedure that allowed participants to self-police the public procurement system.
That was one comfort that the public had in the current public procurement system that provides review of challenged public procurement decisions by the Administrative Court. The limitation was on the lengthy process that also tended to be expensive.
The new Bill seeks to address such issues.
With respect to abuse of procurement process by SPB officials, the Government uses its systems to deal with graft in public procurement. The other arms of Government shall deal appropriately with criminal issues emanating from abuse of procurement processes.
There are various cases under trial as reported in the Press relating to public procurement and some are under investigation and the due process is expected to expose such irregularities.
Accountability and responsibility in the procurement decision process has always been a challenge. Using the current legal framework, Procurement Regulations were amended to transfer the award of tenders to accounting officers after prior review by the State Procurement Board.
This is to enhance responsibility and accountability of accounting officers in a procurement process during the transition.
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