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Praz moves to curb corruption

THERE have been many issues around procurement in Zimbabwe that run from procedure and flighting of tenders that have been riddled with allegations of corruption. This week Senior Business Reporter Melody Chikono( MC)  spoke to  Procurement Regulatory Authority  of Zimbabwe (Praz) Acting Chief Executive Clever Ruswa (CR, pictured)  who narrates the authority’s two year  journey, milestones and challenges. Below are  excerpts of the interview :

MC: What can you say have been your major challenges against achievements in the past year?

CR: Every new organisation would face challenges during the inception which range from resistance by Procuring Entities (PEs) to implement the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets Act [Chapter 22:23] 9PPDPA) and Regulations and Accounting Officers taking too long to take responsibility of procurements to the need to educate stakeholders. The Procurement Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe was not spared from the Covid-19 pandemic which affected all the organisations and companies’ operations locally, regionally and internationally. One of the major challenges that the Authority faced was funding for the electronic-Government Procurement (e-GP).

The e-GP initiative was undertaken as part of the Government of Zimbabwe’s public procurement reforms.  It is the second stage of the two phases in public procurement reforms with the first phase on legislative reforms being completed which resulted in the promulgation of the  and PPDPA which formed Praz.

We are however, glad to announce that our principals are fully supportive and have taken the task upon themselves to ensure that e-GP is fully funded and implemented in line with National Development Strategy 1 which has a digitally enabled economy as one of its key result areas as Information and Communication Technologies are key enablers of economic development.

The other challenge was on Capacity Building which engages more on face-to-face training of Procuring Entities (PEs) officials and bidders on the tenets of the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets Act. The Authority however, adopted the “New Normal” way of doing business through engaging via virtual platforms. It is just that some officials in entities still prefer the face-to-face way of training as they move slowly to adopt the “New Normal” way of doing business.

However, as Praz we have achieved so much in the short space of two years since 2018.

Training and sensitisation on the PPDPA Act and Regulations of procuring entities, bidders and stakeholders through:

  1. Assisting the development tertiary curricular public procurement
  2. Integrity declaration by all involved in procurement. 60% of public procurement officers have signed the declaration. Next stage is to roll out an integrity pact to bidding community

Providing technical guidance on public procurement to stakeholders through feedback on areas of non-compliance as well as areas of improvement noted.

Implementing an online electronic supplier registration and management portal/system which promotes ease of doing business as the Authority moved from a manual supplier registration system to an electronic supplier registration system.

Monitoring PEs on a monthly basis – through monitoring monthly procurements monthly returns or reports that are sent to PRAZ for analysis and evaluation.

Monitoring major Public Private Partnerships (PPP) and Professional Engineering Consultants (PEC) projects – Inspection visits to PEs for performance review and monitoring of major PPP and PEC projects and contracts

Procurement audits and reviews undertaken by PRAZ.

Enhanced Legal Framework — PRAZ has done the following to enhance the legal framework:

  1. Compliance Monitoring and Evaluation — (draft regulations now at AG’s office)
  2. Professionalization Regulations —(draft regulations now at AG’s office)

Electronic public procurement M&E system — to roll out an electronic public procurement M&E system which is an assessment tool, strategically designed to capture qualitative and quantitative data that is used in measuring performance and compliance levels of entities as prescribed by the PPDPA Act

Integrity pacts

Development of relationships with stakeholders and integrity pacts on prevention of corruption by signing of Memorandum of Understanding with Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission and Transparency International Zimbabwe (TI-Z).

Praz has plugged into the organisational and national regulatory and anti-corruption reporting system to synchronise efforts and innovations to prevent corruption in public procurement

MC: What have been the key achievements of the investigative department you set up in 2018 to look into the awarding of tenders following the decentralisation of tender allocation systems?

CR: The Authority does not necessarily have an investigative division. There is a  Monitoring & Evaluation Division which is meant to monitor, review and evaluate secure compliance by PE’s with the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets Act [Chapter 22:23] which was brought under the Authority’s regulatory radar.

The Division uses triangulation of internally and externally generated information to track and support public procurement and it also launched a range of tools for collecting procurement data across the entire public procurement space.  The effort has yielded an excellent success rate in the form of submission of procurement reports and returns by procuring entities. Given the significant impact and response on the use of the tools, the procuring entity submission effort became the basis for establishing public procurement baselines and benchmarks. The level of compliance by the procuring entities is now at above 80%.

 MC:  Local authorities especially city councils keep flouting tender procedures. What are you doing to stop such behaviour?

CR: As Praz we regulate the public procurement process and we are not involved in the procuring process or awarding of tenders by Local Authorities. Accounting Officers have full responsibility and accountability of the procurement process from the budgeting, planning, placement of an advert, evaluation and awarding of contracts. This means that Accounting Officers and their procurement officials should understand and implement the PPDPA Act and Regulations. Where we find gaps as Praz the Capacity Building Division tailor makes training to cover the gaps identified.

To curb the flouting of tender procedures the Authority is pushing for the gazetting of Compliance, Monitoring and Evaluation Regulations. These will provide sanctions to those who continuously flout tenders through penalties.

Any flouting of tender procedures which are picked by the Authority to be having a criminal record are reported to the relevant law enforcement and investigation authorities for further investigation into the procurement procedures that were followed by that procuring entity.

The Authority will provide technical expertise on whether there was flouting of procurement procedures to the investigative authority or law enforcement agency.

MC: Zacc has cases in relation to procurement and disposal of public assets that it has been handling especially in relation to high profile people. Is there anything you are doing as the authority to stop abuse of power by high profile people in relation to these issues?

 CR: The Authority works hand in hand with the investigative arms of Government and law enforcement agencies in terms of assisting with investigations of flouting of procurement procedures by PEs.

The Act is clear on procedures to be taken in such cases, the Accounting Officer ought to write to the authorities concerned highlighting the provisions of the law. The Minister or authority’s directive should be in writing also and if he or she refuses to put the instruction in writing, the Accounting Officer should not comply notwithstanding any terms or conditions of employment. He shall not be liable to any penalty for such non-compliance.

In terms of Section 16 (2) of the Act, if the Minister insists through written communication, he or she may freely implement the directive and communicate to the line Minister in the case of directives from the Board members, Auditor General and Accountant General in the case of ministries. Where the instructions are given by the Minister, the Accounting Officers should report to the Chief Secretary to the President and Cabinet.

 MC: May I have a breakdown of who you have sanctioned in relation to sanctions to violations of the PPDPA Act to date?

CR: Cases of flouting of the PPDPA Act to date are being handled by the investigative arms of Government and it will therefore be sub judice for the Authority to enumerate or comment.

MC: What key areas do you think entities still need to be educated on especially in relation to procurement and disposal of public assets?

CR: Accounting Officer should budget, plan and use the appropriate procurement methods to avoid delays in procurement which they normally pass on to Praz as delaying of which the authority is no longer involved in the procurement process.

The other gap is on PE’s calculation of bid security value which is an amount of money that may be calculated as a percentage of the budget estimate of a procurement requirement. It is used by the client as protection against bidders withdrawing their bids prior to the end of their bid validity period, or for refusing to sign the contract.

Bid security value should be expressed as fixed amount between 0% and 2% of estimated value of the procurement.  Most PE’s are calculating way above the 0% and 2 %.

Whilst most PEs have embraced the PPDPA Act and Regulations and fully implementing there are some gaps which the Authority have noticed is more of the lack of drive to implement than a capacity gap.

MC: Procurement has also been cited by some institutions as an area rife with corruption. What key milestones have you covered so far in fighting corruption?

CR: The Authority has achieved tremendously in terms of minimising corruption in public procurement as the full implementation of the PPDPA Act and Regulation minimises corruption. The 80% rate of compliance with the Act and Regulations shows widespread appreciation and acceptance of the public procurement reforms.

The Professionalisation Regulations that are underway to be gazetted will as according to Section 70 of the Act require that procurement officers in exercise of their duties adhere to specific standards specified in the code of conduct provided in the Regulations.

The implementation of Professionalisation Regulations will ensure that every procurement officer working for ministries, departments, parastatals, agencies, commissions and local authorities are registered and stick to the code of conduct. The breach of the code of conduct will make corrupt officials penalised with some being banned to operate in the public procurement field for life which will enhance the system.

To show its commitment to eradicating corruption in public procurement Praz entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with Transparency International Zimbabwe (TI-Z). This collaboration fulfils the Power of the Authority outlined in PPDPA Act [Chapter 22:23] Section 7 (d) which is “to co-operate with other organisations, whether inside or outside Zimbabwe, in the exercise of its functions.”

Praz, therefore engaged TI-Z to be a collaborating party in its efforts to enhance mechanisms that will combat public procurement related corruption.

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