YES, we are aware, Zambia Public Procurement Authority director general Idah Chileshe Chella responded when asked if she is aware of the bad perception associated with public procurement in Zambia.
The ZPPA regulates procurement of goods and services by local authorities, parastatals, government ministries, statutory bodies and any other agency that uses public funds.
On ZNBC TV’s Sunday Interview programme, programme host Grevazio Zulu asked Chella to talk about the importance of procurement in economic development.
She answered that public procurement gets a big chunk of money from the national budget.
“It actually accounts for 15 per cent of the GDP (Gross Domestic Product). According to the 2018 national budget, K20 billion was set aside for procurement alone,” Chella said. “In 2019, public procurement expenditure was projected at K54 billion and for the year 2021, public procurement expenditure was projected at over K120 billion. So, already you can see that a big chunk of the national cake goes to procurement.”
On who is supposed to implement government/public procurement, Chella referred to the public procurement Act No.12 of 2008.
“That’s when it was decentralised. By that I mean all these procuring entities are able to procure all the goods, services and works on their own. ZPPA is there to regulate and [to] ensure that they comply [with public procurement processes],” she explained. “In a nutshell, the various ministries, parastatals, statutory bodies as well as spending agencies are the ones who are procuring these goods and services.”
Asked how effective the regulatory system of the ZPPA is, Chella explained that the Authority carries out compliance assessments, procurement audits to determine whether procurement entities (PEs) were conducting procurements in accordance with the Act, i.e. the public procurement Act, as well as the 2011 regulations.
She added that the ZPPA also monitors contracts, reviews quarterly procurement reports which are prepared by procurement entities, reviews minutes of their sittings and that the Authority also conducts investigations of complaints from bidders and suppliers, and considers appeals on various procurement issues.
“What I can say is that the Authority has a dedicated department (compliance monitoring) that undertakes these activities. It enforces provisions of the public procurement Act,” she noted.
The interviewer reminded Chella about numerous complaints from the public on procurement-related issues, yet there has been no sanction on public institutions (procuring entity) which engage into procurement impropriety.
“We should we say you are toothless,” asked Zulu.
Chella responded: “No! We have [sanctioned erring procuring entities].”
“[We] even have bidders that have been suspended and we do publish this to all the PEs to say ‘this bidder has been barred permanently, this bidder has been suspended for a year or two.’ We have to hear them (bidders) and the PE is also called and they give their side of the story…” Chella said.
About the perception of corruption in public procurement, Chella said: “yes, we are aware and that is why the law keeps changing and we try to make it as transparent as possible.”
“I just talked about the e-GP (Electronic Government Procurement) that is one of the systems that we implemented to try and give public confidence to the public,” she said. “It’s an online system and people are able to see the tenders that are being floated, awarded. We did include it in our procurement Act to make it mandatory for all procuring entities so that we enhance transparency.”
Chella was further asked how bad the situation is, in relation to corruption in procurement.
“Perception and reality are two different things. One of the things that we can use as the yardstick for actual is the Transparency International Zambia. When you look at those charts, that’s when you are able to see. Generally, a lot of corruption is perceived to be there [in public procurement] because of the amount of money that is involved,” Chella explained. “But as an Authority, we’ve done a lot of reforms to try and ensure that everyone gets value for money. As you know, we just have one resource basket – that’s the national economy – and you and I want to benefit from that. That’s why we would like to make it transparent, efficient.”
Chella also promised that: “we would like to seal all these loopholes [in public procurement].”
“But sometimes even as we try as much as possible, you’ll find that these things happen between two people. I mean, corruption happens between two people,” noted Chella. “It’s good that people are coming out and doing a lot of whistle-blowing. So, we are actually aware of what is happening and that is why we’ve been strengthening this public procurement Act.”