10 January 2013

Zimbabwe: End of an Era for State Procurement Board


The move by Government to streamline operations of the State Procurement Board will definitely improve efficiency in the public sector. This is particularly so in the wake of never ending squabbles

on how some tenders for various projects have been handled with the ultimate result of delaying some crucial projects. It was, therefore, heartening to learn that Cabinet has agreed in principle to decentralise the process of awarding tenders with line ministries now carrying the burden.

Finance Minister Tendai Biti, under whom the SPB falls, announced last week that the role of awarding tenders would now be held by line ministries to improve efficiency.

Amendment to the Procurement Act will result in the SPB being reduced to a regulatory role leaving the adjudicating and awarding of tenders to the responsible ministries. A lot of name calling had taken centre stage over the years with the ministries accusing the SPB of awarding tenders to incompetent people at the expense of professionalism.

Some of the people who won the tenders were briefcase businessmen without the capacity to finance and manage some multi-million dollar jobs. There was also the issue of repeatedly going back to some of the failed tenderers who would have been blacklisted for various misdemeanours.

The long processes whereby Government ministries had to go through to float a tender will now be a thing of the past. Underhand dealings that were also taking place would also be swept out and leave the authorities fully in charge.

This is not, however, to say that the process will now be flawless as such underhand practices have the potential to resurface under the new regime. The ministries should stand guard against such behaviour that retards progress.

This is a clarion call to all concerned that they are now responsible for their destiny and they should rally their troops to ensure that any unbecoming behaviour is nipped in the bud. We are hoping for a situation that the concerned parties are now fully in charge of the entire process and there would be no one to blame, but themselves for their failures.

Corruption was heavily associated with the operations of the SPB with the chairman Mr Charles Kuwaza at one time admitting before a Parliamentary Portfolio Committee that his officers corruptly awarded tenders to bidders. This is not how it should be.

We have a responsibility to the electorate to ensure that taxpayers' money is fully accounted for and guard against hideous activities. To ensure that the task is carried out efficiently, it is incumbent among the ministries and parastatals that they have adequate and qualified personnel to manage the procurement tasks.

The SPB at one time defended its position saying that it did not have enough staff to investigate the alleged corrupt practices. That is not an excuse if the system is carefully designed to eliminate any leakages.

That the wings of the SPB have been clipped while coming as good news to many, others are frothing that their opportunities have been curtailed. They were capitalising on wheeling and dealing. Their time is up and in this dollarised environment, every dollar counts and they shall live to rue the "good times" they had at the expense of an expectant nation.

Gone are the days where only a select segment of the community lived off corrupt practices at the hands of some greedy officials. The net is closing in and it is not too late to mend their ways and ensure that they operate according to the book.

All eyes will now be on the accounting officers in the respective ministries and parastatals to ensure that they operate above board and the people will be rewarded with efficiency. They should turn over a new leaf that should drive better performance and delivery as we enter the new year.

The ministries and parastatals should not hesitate to tap on the skills and competences of the SPB as they have been in the game for a long time. They have a lot to learn and their knowledge should be utilised for the benefit of all.

It is our hope that some of the staff at the SPB will be seconded to some of the ministries and parastatals to capacitate them as they brace for the bigger challenges lying ahead of them.

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