Ultimatum for State entities

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PHILLIMON MHLANGA

Government is tightening the screws on public procurement and has given all State-owned companies a 30-day ultimatum to sign procurement undertaking, a move expected to promote diligence and stem the rot at parastatals, Business Times can reveal.

The undertaking is to be signed by all accounting officers, who are chief executive officers or managing directors, procurement officers, finance staff and procurement evaluation committee members before the end of this month. They have been warned of severe consequences in the event of breach of duty.

In a letter to all accounting officers of the State entities, dated May 3 and signed by Procurement Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (PRAZ) chief executive officer Nyasha Chizu, State entities were given 30 days to comply with the directive.

“The accounting officer is therefore directed in terms of Section 7 b of the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets Act to submit signed undertaking by staff employed in the Procurement Management Units established in terms of Section 17 of the Act, staff that form Adhoc Evaluation Committees established in terms of Section 18 of the
Act, staff involved in the implementation of procurement contracts from operations and finance. Please ensure that the signed undertakings are received by May 31, 2019,” the letter reads.

Section 70(1) defines a procurement officer as an officer, employee or agent of a procuring entity who is responsible for any aspect of the entity’s procurement including the implementation of procurement contracts.

Section 70 (3) of the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets Act provides that before a procurement officer enters upon his or her office as such, he or she, in writing, undertakes to, faithfully exercise the functions assigned to him or her as a procurement officer and abide by rules of conduct provided for by or under this Act, including the code of conduct referred to in Section 71.

Part of the undertaking form for procurement officers reads: “I undertake to perform my duties diligently to achieve the objectives of the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets Act (Chapter 22:23) in line with Section 4. I further undertake to abide by the
Code of Conduct for procurement officers provided in the First Schedule to the Public Procurement and Disposal   of Public Assets (General) Regulations (S.I.5 of 2018).”

The procurement officers will undertake “to comply with all the requirements of procurement officers provided in the Public Procurement Regulations developed by the Authority.”

“I undertake that in the exercise of my responsibilities I shall abide by provisions of Section 70 (92) of the public procurement and disposal of public Assets Act (Chapter 22:23). I understand the consequences of breach of duty and this undertaking as provided in
Section 70 (4) of the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets
Act,” the form reads.

Chizu told Business Times that the move would help combat the rot in public procurement as the flawed procurement was most often the common denominator in the past, resulting in government losing several millions of dollars through corrupt procurement practices in
State-owned entities.

“These are new instruments to curb corruption in public procurement,’ Chizu said.

“(We are also) trying to enhance responsibility and accountability in public procurement by all involved.”

The Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets Act replaced the Procurement Act and abolished the State Procurement Board (SPB), a body which was conducting procurement on behalf of government entities.

SPB was replaced by PRAZ following the promulgation of the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets in January 2018. PRAZ oversees public procurement in the country, transferring public procurement to government ministries, parastatals and local
authorities.

The new law puts procurement officials in league with other professions such as lawyers and accountants, who are licenced to practice.

The new Act decentralised public procurement to procuring entities such as parastatals, line ministries and local authorities, representing a paradigm shift from the SPB era.

Section 30 of the new law states that competitive bidding method of procurement will be the normal method to be employed by procurement entities, unless circumstances demand, the other methods, such as restricted bidding , direct procurement and request for quotations, should be employed.

A special oversight committee, which will review the procurement process, including the attorney general, the accountant general, the auditor-general and the principal director in the ministry of Local Government, Public Works and National Housing, has been set up.
Government’s procurement process is currently done manually and this has resulted in multi-million dollar tenders being controversially awarded to undeserving bidders. The system has also had other challenges including delays in the actual procurement, bidder and client complaints and lack of procurement data.

The new law, however, has given birth to the adoption of e-procurement after the tender to develop the e-procurement strategy was granted to United Kingdom headquartered firm, Crown Agency.

The e-procurement project is expected to address historical loopholes in the current public procurement system and ensure fairness, honesty, cost effectiveness and competitions.

The new system will result in increased disclosure of procurement data, monitoring and oversight of procurement activities and increased participation.

This will strengthen public financial management, meaning there will be availability of real time expenditure data and improved service delivery to the citizens. Statistics will also be available to government on how it is spending money and reduce government procurement costs.