THE honeymoon is over for enterprising citizens commonly referred to as “tenderpreneurs”, who have in the past milked Government coffers dry by corruptly obtaining tenders, as a new and comprehensive Procurement Act is set to be ready by month-end.
The Procurement Bill, which seeks to overhaul and modernise the public procurement system in a manner that benefits Government, now awaits Presidential assent after a gruelling 18 months of hard work to ensure a foolproof piece of legislation that clips the wings corrupt citizens.
Government embarked on reforming the public procurement system after officials tasked with inviting tenders blew gaping holes in the law and became filthy rich overnight.
The new Procurement Act – among others – seeks to ensure that contracts are awarded to companies that have the ability to see them through at the lowest possible cost to Government.
Last week, Senior Director in the Office of the President and Cabinet in charge of public sector modernisation development Mr Solomon Mhlanga, said the Public Procurement Bill is now “on the President’s desk”, awaiting his signature.
“We have worked with the Attorney General in coming up with a new State Procurement Bill. A lot of work has been put in (crafting the Bill) after complaints from everybody that the way we do our procurement is not proper, and everybody appreciated.
“And again it was not a question of changing the State Procurement law and within two days, we have a new Procurement Act and everything is up and going; we can’t work like that.
“We have worked on that Procurement Bill for the past one and half years very meticulously and to the satisfaction of everybody, at least as much as possible, and that Bill is on President’s desk, awaiting his assent and we will be having a new Procurement law, I am sure before the end of July,” said Mr Mhlanga.
The current Procurement Act has no qualms with tenders being awarded even to ex-convicts. Section 34 (1) of the Procurement Act – which spells out the preconditions for suppliers to qualify for the tendering process – makes it discretionary for the public entity acquiring goods or services to quality or disqualify suppliers.
What the new Bill offers
But the new Bill, which is also a central requirement of Section 315 of the new Constitution, is calculated to ensure contracts are awarded to companies that can deliver them at the lowest possible cost to the country.
In the existing procurement law, there is no regard to the cost as the officials can pick even the most expensive bid, a move which has opened avenues for arbitrage.
The envisaged Act is expected to transform the SPB, from a procurement agent into a regulator, the Procurement Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe. Essentially, the SPB’s responsibilities would include advising Government; setting standards and guidelines; and training and professional development.
It will also refer contraventions of the law to enforcement agencies such as the police. The SPB will also investigate procuring entities and suppliers, and gather information and statistics on public procurement.
Crucially, it is not only the contracting of goods, services and public works that will be subjected to scrutiny, but other services such as consultancy, joint venture projects and disposals.
In the past, Energy and Power Development Minister Dr Samuel Undenge, was caught up in an embarrassing storm after he allegedly directed Zesa to outsource public relations services from Fruitful Communications, a virtually unknown local company.
In the new law, Procurement Management Units (PMU) would be set up in various public departments, parastatals and local authorities. But accounting officers such as chief executive officers of parastatals will ultimately be responsible for decision-making.
And Clause 16 of the Procurement Bill enables the accounting officers from not complying with illegal decisions made by a superior authority.
There have been cases where accounting officers escape culpability for procurement processes gone wrong by shifting the blame to powerful office bearers such as ministers.
Now, where there is interference, accounting officers can objection with the Chief Secretary to the President and Cabinet. When disputes arise, before there are referred to the Administrative Court – where many cases remain trapped within the slow-moving wheels of bureaucracy – there are now internal review mechanisms to try and administer justice.
A special committee made up of the Attorney General, Auditor General and Accountant General, will be set up to review the awards. It will also have the power to refer or order the cancellation of procurement proceedings.
Challenges by bidders can made at any stage of the tendering process. In addition, in cases where there are allegations of impropriety, the regulatory authority will have the power to appoint an investigator, who will have the same power as a Commissioner as spelt out in the Commissioner of Inquiry Act.
The new law appears compact to the extent that even procurement of sundry items in Government will be harmonised, implying that all departments will be buying goods at the same price, unless in cases where procuring entities can prove that they can buy the same quality at a relatively cheaper price.
Modernisation of public procurement is in line with a myriad of economic reforms that Government is undertaking in the context of ‘Ease of Doing Business’ to revolutionise the business environment and make it more transparent, fair, honest, cost effective and competitive.