Editor's Comment

ZPPA reforms game-changer

PROCUREMENT of goods and services for the public has for the past few months dominated discussions in the corridors of power, justifiably so given the high levels of corruption in the process. President Hakainde Hichilema is on record having demanded that the procurement process should be done at the right price, right quality and that delivery must be timely to benefit citizens. Before his trip to the United States of America for the United Nations General Assembly last month, the President directed the Vice-President, W.K Mutale-Nalumango, Secretary to the Cabinet and ministers to find specific track measures that would help adjust the procurement processes to enable the three principles to occur. President Hichilema’s urgency to cure the cancer in the procurement system sheds light on the fact that those entrusted to buy goods and services for the public have lost a sense of transparency and accountability. His revelation recently that some government officials in the previous regime were procuring materials such as fertiliser at exorbitant prices when they could buy these at a much lower price is cause for concern. Certainly, this situation cannot be allowed to continue when millions of Zambians are longing for proper provision of goods and services by government. Zambia Public Procurement Authority (ZPPA) is expected to be on top of things to ensure that procurement is done at the right price, right quality and timely delivery to avoid wastage of public resources. The political will by President Hichilema should provide impetus for ZPPA to ensure that measures are in place to avoid corruption in procurement. The launch of a market price index by the procurement authority is a welcome development which should be supported by all stakeholders. ZPPA director general Idah Chirwa says the price index will govern the delivery of goods and services to ensure efficiency, effectiveness and value for money in the public procurement system. “It is expected that all procuring entities shall conduct procurements within the provided prices and ensure that all processes are cost-effective thereby resulting in efficiency and effectiveness of the procurement process,” she said. This is a step in the right direction to deter some officials from using procurement as a conduit for theft and enriching themselves. It is good that the procurement authority will discipline any office-holder who wilfully or negligently inflates prices for goods and services. Government officials should bear in mind that their role is to serve citizens and not to disadvantage the people by stealing public funds through the procurement system. Corruption in procurement affects everyone and it is usually the poorest citizens who pay the biggest price for this crime. This is because, for instance, projects that are supposed to benefit these citizens are not completed satisfactorily or are done at an exorbitant price. This means that money spent on construction of schools, clinics, roads and bridges, if prudently used, could be enough for more projects. Worse still, in some instances, money may be paid by government to a service provider but the service is not provided. This is unacceptable. All government institutions must adhere to the new measures by ZPPA to reduce high costs incurred in service delivery. The fight against corruption in procurement cannot be done by the President alone. This calls for action by all stakeholders. It is also worth reminding companies and institutions engaged by government to provide goods and services to desist from aiding inflated prices lest they price themselves out of contracts. Once again we would like to commend ZPPA for the market price index initiative. Although questions may be raised as to why the authority did not come up with these measures in years past, it is better late than never.

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