LOCAL Government minister Ignatius Chombo is on a collision course with the MDC-T after backing new procurement regulations to govern municipalities which would curtail their spending powers as part of measures to curb rampant corruption and inefficiency.
In a letter dated December 27 2012, the then acting Local Government minister Joseph Made wrote to the chief secretary to the president and cabinet Misheck Sibanda welcoming the regulations saying that would help reverse the shoddy handling of tenders over the last decade.
“The ministry welcomes the said development given the serious challenges that have arisen with respect to procurement of goods and services by local authorities especially in the last eight to 10 years,” Made wrote.
“There were no effective checks and balances in the process resulting in widespread fraudulent purchases, favouritism and outright corruption in the procurement of goods and services.”
He added that strategic interventions such as Public Sector Investment Programmes on water and sanitation have been seriously compromised by engagement of unqualified contractors, supply of substandard materials and incessant squabbles among councillors arising from conflictual preferences of those being awarded tenders.
Made also expressed concern over the decline in the quality of elected councillors.
“Without being misconstrued for condescension it has become apparent that there has been general decline in the calibre of councillors elected into office especially on the urban front. The majority of the councillors currently in office have not been exposed to positions of responsibility prior to elevation into public office,” he said.
“The situation is exacerbated by the absence of academic qualifications for councillorship, a situation that warrants serious reflection and review. Tersely put, without some reasonable academic attainment, it is practically untenable for councillors to optimally function within committees of council.”
He said aberrations in terms of tender procedures would take various forms, including manifestly poor tender adjudication, staggered procurement to deliberately cheat the tendering framework and “distinctly skewed decisions in favour of cronies and/or their handlers”.
The State Procurement Board, under the new arrangement, Made said, has the capacity to rein in on truant councillors as it had elaborate provisions for management of tenders. It also provides through statutory instrument 159 of 2012 for penalties for failure to comply with tender regulations.
Made added that it also enables the ministry to restore order in the local government sector.
He recommended that the maximum threshold for goods and services be pegged at US$300 000 for Harare and Bulawayo under category A, US$200 000 for other cities and municipalities, including the Ruwa Local Board under category B and US$150 000 for town councils, other local boards and rural district councils under category C.
The maximum thresholds for construction recommended were US$1 million, US$700 000 and US$400 000 for categories A, B and C respectively.
Made said resistance to the new procurement framework was coming from councillors who deem themselves excluded from the new arrangement.
“Yet it is a fact that the majority of councillors lack the craft competence to adjudicate on tenders. They were not adding any value to the process but merely exploiting the same for individual benefit.”
The new measures are likely to meet resistance from MDC-T- dominated councils which have previously complained that Chombo was using his position to sabotage them.