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Procurement corruption: from fire tenders to ambulances!

Chishimba Kambwili says he did not want to comment on Ministry of Health’s latest acquisition of 50 ambulances earlier thinking that Edgar Lungu would institute investigations to ascertain how a Land Cruiser ambulance could be purchased at US$ 288,000.

“A Land Cruiser hardtop from Toyota Zambia costs US$60,000. Now when you look at the things that are in that ambulance that they have bought from Savenda at US$288,000, there is only a bed, small shelf, and a bench for paramedics. If you add up the cost of those three items I have mentioned, they will not exceed US$5,000, meaning therefore that an ambulance would only cost, to the most, $70,000, a fully equipped ambulance, a Land Cruiser that is duty free because government does not pay duty,” says Kambwili.

 

“Are we going to allow a situation where an ambulance can be purchased at $288,000 and we are quiet watching? I am convinced beyond reasonable doubt President Edgar Lungu is corrupt himself and he has no political will to fight corruption because he is corrupt Zambian number one. This is straightforward, we can go to Toyota Zambia and get a quotation and see how much we bought Land Cruiser ambulances before, did they cost $288,000? The answer is no. Why are we allowing a few individuals in government to be exaggerating costs of some of these things and pocketing the money and we are all watching? I am telling you Zambians, by the time Edgar Lungu finishes his term in 2021, Zambia will be bankrupt because it appears we Zambians are docile; we don’t want to participate in running this country.”

Who is behind Savenda? Do they manufacture Toyota Land Cruisers? Why award the tender to middlemen when we can purchase directly from the manufacturers – Toyota – or their official dealers directly? This not different from the fire tender deal.
Billions of kwacha or millions of dollars are spent each year buying goods and services for the government. From schools and hospitals, to roads and agriculture inputs, this means big budgets and complex plans. It also means ideal opportunities for corruption. Contracts to suppliers can be awarded without fair competition. This allows companies with political connections to those in power to triumph over their rivals. Or companies within the same industry can rig their bids, so each gets a piece of the pie. This increases the cost of services to the public. It’s clear that corruption can add a gigantic mark up to a project’s costs.

But corruption in public procurement isn’t just about money. It also reduces the quality of work or services. And it can cost lives. Our people have paid a terrible personal price for poor public works and counterfeit or low grade but very expensive products. The end result? Our trust in our leaders is eroded.
All of us can help ensure taxpayers’ money is well spent. Government must guarantee to provide good quality services, bought at a fair price. This means it needs strong procurement systems. It’s up to us to make sure these are put in place.
What do these systems look like? Above all, they’re transparent. This means we can see what’s going on. Then we can hold government, bidders and contractors accountable for their actions. Good procurement systems are also shaped by clear regulations that meet international standards. And they’re overseen by strong institutions that enforce those rules. They also provide access to information and effective complaints mechanisms. These let us report suspected corruption confidentially and without threat.

Specific measures can help us ensure honest procurement processes. We should push for commitments to honesty by bidders for a contract and the procuring government agency. This means promises from everyone involved not to take part in bribery, collusion or other corrupt practices. We can also demand an independent external monitor to ensure an agreement is not violated.

To promote honesty in procurement, we may need to combine these measures into an integrity pact agreement. Allegations of fraud and corruption involving government purchases never seem to end. Before public tears over the corruption involving the $42 million 42 fire tenders dry up, we have cries over the procurement of 50 Toyota Land Cruiser hardtop ambulances at $288,000 each. What happened to the procurement principles of transparency, competitiveness, streamlined processes, accountability, and public monitoring?

In view of the increasing and continuing cases of corruption in government procurement, perhaps there is a need to revisit the law and its implementing rules and regulations, and come up with a more effective and systematic procurement policy.
The reduced opportunity to “earn” on government procurements will not sit well with politicians who spend millions of kwacha to get elected and, once in power, proceed to recover their “investments” and those who simply want to get rich very quickly using their positions in government. Government procurement is also seen as an acceptable or legitimate way of economically or financially empowering ruling party leaders and cadres, including the president himself. And this explains the very high involvement of State House in the administration of public tenders. The solution may thus be to change the system into one where collusion and State House involvement is significantly reduced and the processes are rendered completely transparent.

Can, in all honesty, Edgar say he doesn’t know what is going on and he is not part of it? This cannot be a product of oversight. This is a product of conscious corruption and a systemic decision to steal from the Zambian people. And where is the useless and corrupt Anti Corruption Commission?

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