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Government Playing Smart On Tender Issues

By Shingirai Vambe

It was only recently during the 2021/22 national pre-budget seminar that Norton Member of Parliament, Temba Mliswa aggressively spoke about the welfare of his fellow members and the timely disbursement of funds.

Barely 8 months later, Parliament has caused a stir following a computer and laptop tender that went south causing a social media stir when it was revealed that of the 92 initial bidders, 60 failed to meet set requirements and of the remainder 30, 20 of them failed to supply according to laid down specifications.

Among the bidders,some have been said to have quoted US$15000 for the supply of the same products and Parliament settled for the US$9 200 one which was from Blinart Investments Pvt Ltd, under the procurement quote released to the public with a total amount of US $1 845 809.13 for both 173 laptops and 79 desktops.

It is beyond reasonable doubt that the Parliament ICT department played a contributory role in the tender process as the much needed software requirements were supposed to be genuine packages with their patent keys.

It is however, common knowledge that during any procurement process there is a lot of money that exchange hands, and it is alleged the company that had won the tender also played a part by kick backing to some officials from the top.

The million dollar question being asked by economists and citizens in Zimbabwe is, has the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) stopped issuing money through its auction system. The honest truth from the market, there is a huge backlog to those who applied for foreign currency from the RBZ and that has also contributed to failure by suppliers to survive the market forces.

Big companies are inflating prices of goods and services to government, due to the mere fact that, they delay in payment and usually want to make payments of invoices which have already been eroded by inflation.

One supplier who spoke to this publication on condition of anonymity said, he hasn’t received his payment of service provided in May this year, when the official rate was ZWL $336, and the Ministry of Finance still wants to use that same invoice when the rate is now double.

“When you are dealing with the government, you have to be careful otherwise you will get out of business. Once you create an invoice try as much as possible to use the current rate and an estimate of when the payment is likely to be made,” he said.

Another supplier commented on the tender process of the laptops by parliament, she said if you calculate, the money in ZWL then when the payment will be made, you will realize that yes, though inflated, the supplier had also given an allowance of delayed payment.

“We all started from somewhere, the location of the office is not a major issue, and majority are operating from their homes. What is important is what is important is having the required papers and things done procedurally and payments done on time,” she said.

Since time immemorial even in other countries, government is the biggest consumer and everyone wants to get a tender to supply government, this is not the case now in Zimbabwe.

The laptop scandal has raised a lot of dust and an investigation has been issued, even with the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (ZACC) yet hotels are charging the same government, ZWL $190 000 per night, using the official rate multiplied by 2 and according to the market rate it’s equivalent to USD $120 and according to the Ministry of Finance, Permanent Secretary, George Guvamatanga, its way above USD $300.

This is the dilemma that the private sector has found itself in, when dealing with the government and the Ministry of Finance.

Yesterday, Parliament appeared before the Public Accounts Committee, responding to issues raised by the Auditor General  in the 2019-2020 financial report, and various issues came out during the session which the Clerk of Parliament, Kennedy Chokuda responded and said since the said period, Parliament has drastically changed and improved its systems in trying to deal with highlighted issues.

Few issues from the committee and parliament remain unsolved, and these are the very same issues which speak to issuance of funds to different service providers.

Parliament has been facing difficult times with hotels and fuel suppliers for its members. On several occasions members have complained on these challenges yet they are the ones who pass in the national budget. The ministry of finance has made the Parliament of Zimbabwe a laughing stock since 2018 as the local currency which government has adopted continue to lose its value and eroded by inflation.

Chokuda told Parliament that regardless of these challenges, his institution has survived these difficult times and it is work in progress as they are also going through different training with various institutions to equip its staff on best corporate governance practice.

Earlier, Vimbai Nyemba, Board Chairperson of the Procurement Regulatory Authority (PRAZ) told Legislators among other key institutions representatives in Bulawayo, during the African Parliamentary Against Corruption (APNAC) that there are a number of laws to do with procurement, that needs alignment and she urged that government institutions or officers including parliament of Zimbabwe, need training on procurement.

PRAZ recently introduced an online procurement lesson which takes at most 3 days, as a way of equipping ministry officials and everyone who would want to take part even in the private sector. The online lesson is there on their portal.

Quizzed on the procurement of computers, Parliament Procurement Director, Bhebhe and Theresa Kamvura gave conflicting statements.

This was after Bhebhe had told the committee that he did not visit the companies involved yet in his report earlier, had confirmed that Parliament did visit the companies to verify their locations for authenticity purposes. Kamvura gave specifications of the laptops they wanted to acquire surprisingly they were the same with the ones they had previously acquired but didn’t know how much they costed and she vehemently denied that they costed US $9.200 neither did they cost $4000 but lower than that.

The laptop saga has raised a lot of dust to the extent that the company that was once congratulated for winning the tender, does not exist according to the Registrar of Companies records and few individuals who had lost the tender have since written to the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (ZACC) asking why they lost the tender when they had quoted lower than the amount on the approved tender.

Mliswa said the conduct by Parliament administration has brought the status of the institution that play an oversight to other arms of the government and society to disrepute.

He is also on record saying most tenders being given to Government suppliers, Office of the President and Cabinet is directly involved.

Citizen Coalition for Change MP, and former finance minister, Tendai Bitu, proposed that there should be an external auditor to look into the books of Parliament since 2018 to date and produce the results.

Some of the burning issues are to do with fuel coupons, allowances and welfare of staff of Parliament.

The Public accounts committee will sit again on Monday to hear more on the laptop and computer tendergate, while the Auditor General, Mildred Chiri is also expected to appear before the committee to explain why there were omissions on key ministries in her 2020-2021 AG report