DISBANDMENT of the State Procurement Board and its replacement with the Procurement Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (PRAZ) helped decentralise public procurement processes. It allowed for individual State institutions to procure goods and services on their own, in line with guidelines laid down under the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets Act. This brought about efficiency and helped shut the door to corrupt procurement officers in Government departments. The Sunday Mail’s Senior Reporter Leroy Dzenga spoke to PRAZ board chairperson Mrs Vimbai Nyemba who spoke about progress regarding aligning public procurement processes with the law.
Q: PRAZ was established nearly two years ago. Can you outline the organisation’s major milestones so far?
A: PRAZ has been a baby in the making since 2018. One of the milestones achieved so far is that we started without staff and managed to employ people to fill all the critical positions.
We put together other structures including e-procurement and are at advanced stages of making sure that we go paperless.
During Covid-19, we managed, as a new entity, to ensure that most procurements were done in the correct manner. New guidelines in procurement processes have been drawn up.
Our Act which is new was used in this regard, which is a milestone.
It may be of a world class standard, but remember everything must be suited to your own environment and circumstances. It is a tried and tested document. But we are working on amending it to make sure that it is useful to us as Zimbabwe and our environment.
Regulations to guide the implementation of our Act have also been put together.
The board is growing, we moved offices and there is now a piece of land suitable for our state-of-the-art offices.
I am sure you were reading a lot of bad things about procurement, half the time the chairperson of the State Procurement Board would be in the papers.
The organisation is now sanitised and there is a board with people of integrity, who are skilled and educated, high profile people and we will ensure that PRAZ remains an institution to reckon with.
Q: When you say you intend to amend the Act, what sort of changes are you referring to specifically?
A: There are certain provisions that need to be made so that suppliers and entities can do business without any obstacles.
With the support of our principals, the Board saw it fit that we cover such gaps by making amendments to the Act.
Q: As a country we have been pursuing the “buy local” principle. What are Government departments doing in order to procure from local businesses?
A: I think our Act is very clear, it encourages indigenisation.
When procurements are being made, there is a tilt towards indigenous products.
When documents come for review to the oversight committee, they look at those things.
Local supplier gets preference ahead of foreign ones.
Q: I was going through the recently released Auditor General’s report. It appears that procurement misgivings or impropriety still persist even in the presence of PRAZ. Why is it that this has been the case when we have a statutory authority that was set up to stop this?
A: Remember the new law decentralised procurement.
PRAZ is a regulator, procurements are happening at the entities.
So, if there are mishaps, they could be happening at the companies, but we have our monitoring and evaluation department that looks into that, I think it could be worse had it not been there.
Unfortunately, we have been relying on information given by entities and sometimes when information comes it would appear upright.
We have been doing spot checks, visiting entities to ensure that things are done properly.
Different authorities have been roped in with some of the issues being referred to Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission, some to the Prosecutor General’s office when we think crime was involved.
Q: After PRAZ hands over a case to ZACC and the PG, does it continue being an interested party in the cases?
A: Half the time we go to court as witnesses.
Records are provided to courts during trials to show the evidence we have.
Q: From 2019, there has been a mass recruitment of procurement personnel in the Government. Do you monitor the pedigree and the calibre of people who are being given these roles?
A: It is a requirement at law that every entity must have a Procurement Management Unit and who qualifies there is part of what we do.
We need to find out what qualifications they hold and what they do.
All procurement officials should be licensed, and in the event that they do anything that is not within the law, they stand to lose their licence and we think that would go a long way to deter would-be-criminals.
Q: How often do you engage training institutions to ensure that the procurement officers you end up dealing with, are fit for purpose.
A: We have done sensitisation programmes where entities are invited to come and learn from us so they can understand it better.
We are almost over two years old now and you will be surprised that a lot of entities have not really grasped the law.
But those that come to the regulator we actually help as to how they can go about their procurement.
So our training continues, we have been doing virtual trainings because of Covid-19.
Q: We understand what happened with the last chief executive and recently you appointed a new one. What measures have you put in place to ensure that we do not have a repeat of unfortunate stories we woke up to the last time?
A: I will not agree with you that the story is unfortunate. Remember CEOs are employees in terms of their contracts and if their contract is terminated there is nothing unfortunate about it.
It is expected, I wouldn’t want to call it unfortunate.
If we wake up one morning and say, “Mr Ruswa your contract has been terminated”, this is because the contract itself says upon giving three months’ notice, we can terminate.
But I also want to agree with you, it becomes unfortunate in the sense that for a big organisation like us, we want a CEO who will stay.
Remember in terms of Public Entities Act, they get five-year contracts, so if you see him leave after five years in case his contract is not renewed, there is nothing unfortunate about it.
It is in terms of the Act and corporate governance.
Q: I understand PRAZ plans to roll out an e-government procurement system, can you walk us through the process and what it seeks to achieve?
A: We believe that if we go electronic in our processes, we will reduce corruption and that there will not be any exchanges of khaki envelopes that people speak about.
We have never seen them here at PRAZ, but we hear about them in entities.
When you do not see the face of the person (the procurement officer), when you have to pay or submit your documents, that will be faster.
This will reduce our staff costs since we would no longer need someone to receive documents and file them.
It will be easy for suppliers to file their documents, instead of rushing from Bulawayo to come and make sure documents are in before the due date.
You will have someone sitting in their house on their computer and sending documents.
This is the way to go, we really have no choice we want to push it big time.
Q: What measures are you putting in place to facilitate the inclusion of women and youth-led businesses in taking up big Government tenders?
A: The Act speaks to women issues. Remember our Constitution in Section 56, speaks to equality and this has been imported into our current Act to say preference will be given to women-led businesses before we even look at indigenous Zimbabweans, we will look at women.
They will be the first to be given business, but they have to comply with the regulations.
I personally would encourage women to be involved. I observed that few women get involved in tenders they think it is a boys’ club, but that is where the money is.
I have realised that women do not want to get involved where they think they need to have their stamina involved.
Hopefully, with this e-procurement, more women will get involved.
Q: In the event of non-compliance, what are the penalties that await errant institutions?
A: At the moment we do not have penalties, but we are working on regulations to that effect.
They are still with the Attorney General’s office, but as soon as we have them, then our penalties will be in place.
The only penalties we have now are for suppliers, who if they are not compliant we keep watch and when their documents come we can bar them from being involved in procurements.