MARTIN NKOLOMBA, Lusaka
PUBLIC procurement occupies a key place in Zambiaâ€™s national development agenda. If not handled well the country may lose much in its pursuit of the aspiration.
To ensure proper management of public procurement, Government enacted the Public Procurement Act in 2008, which effectively gave birth to the Zambia Public Procurement Authority (ZPPA), a body mandated to regulate all public tenders.
According ZPPA principal officer for public relations John Chipandwe, public procurement is â€˜a process by which public sector organisations acquire goods, services and works from a supplier using public funds.
The procurement regulator is vital, as public funds need to be safeguarded all the time, much more in the light of possible corruption, a vice with potential to cripple a nation.
Besides that function, ZPPA has a critical role in encouraging small to medium-scale enterprisesâ€™ (SMEs) efficacious participation in Zambiaâ€™s development on the economic front. The value of the aforementioned is essentially to stress Governmentâ€™s promulgation of a private sector-led economy.
At the regional level, the Common Market for East and Southern Africa (COMESA) is making serious efforts to encourage private sector participtation among its members.
To that effect, COMESA held a special workshop for SMEs and manufacturers in Zambia at Radisson Blu Hotel in Lusaka recently. The theme of the workshop was â€˜Maximising public procurement to enhance SMEs competitivenessâ€™.
As way of promoting efficiency, transparency and effectiveness, Mr Chipandwe, told participants, in a Powerpoint presentation, that ZPPA has decentralised the public procurement system, meaning public sector organisations now have much more authority regarding tenders.
He said Zambian SMEs and manufacturers should make the most of development: â€œinnovation and strategic thinking are key for our success. [Let us] embrace new ideas, E-government procurement and E-framework agreements.â€
The ZPPA has put in place serious measures aimed at expanding the capacity of SMEs and manufacturers in Zambiaâ€™s economic development.
Among the measures is that the ZPPA has a policy to give a target group such as Zambian citizens or local suppliers preferential treatment in bids for the provision of services and goods to public organisations.
Participants (SMEs) at the workshop learnt that ZPPA gives preference to goods, works or services manufactured in or provided from Zambia or a particular region or performed by Zambians or persons from a particular region.
They learnt that SMEs, enterprises owned by women or other groups designated by government policy are equally given priority by the regulator.
SMEs and manufacturers in Zambia can do business more profitably, it was learnt at the workshop. For sure, there is a whole lot of opportunities being given to them today. Government has made it a point to support them from infancy to a level where they begin to flourish.
That category of business forms an integral part of the back borne of the countryâ€™s socio-economic development. When SMEs prosper, they cause the economy to grow, as they are able to employ many people and offer business to auxiliary firms.
In a presentation at the same function, COMESA Business Council (CBC) chief executive officer Sandra Uwera said Zambian SMEs and manufacturers should take advantage of the position Africa has attained as a hub of increased international trade.
â€œI ask you – SMEs in Zambia – are you part of the playground [of increased international trade]? The trend today in the region is on increased duplication of business lines or a lack of market segmentation by SMEs. As a result, potential opportunities lie unexploited by local businesses – and are taken over by international enterprises,â€ Ms Uwera said.
The multiplicity of companies emerging on the African continent, should urge SMEs in the COMESA region, Zambia in particular, to â€˜outsource inputs from the market – than controlling their entire value chainâ€™, she said.
COMESA statistics, the chief executive said, show that Zambia recorded the biggest market share in terms of imports at 22 percent in 2014 valued at US$2.3 million, which represents a drop from the 2013â€™s share of 26 percent at US$2.8 million.
Zambia is doing fairly well in view of exports. According to COMESA CBC, the country is number four in the region with 11.5 percent share of the market, at the value of US$1.16 million, its major exports being the traditional copper, ores and concentrates.
Ms Uwera urged SMEs and manufacturers to consider more active engagement and participation in agriculture.
â€œWhen one looks at the vast arable land that Zambia is blessed with, the first thing that comes to mind is agricultural trade, among many other key demand sectors that could actually brand the country as one of Africaâ€™s food baskets. The opportunities [in the agricultural sector] are endless,â€ she said.
Ms Uwera, however, added that for SMEs and manufacturers to realise the massive business opportunies lying in the agricultural sector, they need to synergise their efforts.
â€œHowever, for this [success in agricultural business] to happen, as private sector, we must work hand in hand to set up regulatory frameworks that are conducive to business.
Secondly, as a country that hosts many regional and international investors – the same business environment must offer flexibility to allow growth for both foreign and locally owned companies,â€ she said.
More importantly, Ms Uwera called on the SMEs and manufacturers to â€˜work with the larger corporate companiesâ€™, putting stress on the fact that business entities of nowadays should regard each other as partners, and not as competitors.
Working with certain SMEs, manufactures and tourism operators under a project dubbed Local Sourcing for Partnerships, COMESA CBC is helping locally owned enterprises to be sustainable and profitable by instituting a technical capacity approach that would establish strong working relationships with buyers in Zambia and six other countries in the region.
Ms Uwera urged SMEs, manufacturers and tourism operators to promote home-grown solutions in establishing new businesses as well as sustaining existing ones.
With the enabling environment the government has created and continues to create for business entities, locally owned businesses, SMEs and manufactures should work harder to succeed more. They should make the most of the countryâ€™s public procurement policy to significantly enhance their contribution to its economic growth.
MARTIN NKOLOMBA, Lusaka