The Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) says it has suspended implementation of the intention by Ministry of Health to award a Zambian firm a contract to supply 35 ambulances because its vetting role was bypassed.
In an interview in the wake of the graft-busting body’s second cancellation of the ambulances deal in 12 months, ACB senior public relations officer Egrita Ndala said the legal requirement to vet contracts allows for checking of the database to see if the supplier or consultant has a case with the bureau.
She said if the contractor has a case with the ACB, the legal and prosecution team within the bureau is consulted to provide guidance on whether clearance should be given.
Ndala said: “If the ACB vetting is not done, there is a possibility that the law may not be followed and officials may abuse their powers in the procurement process.
“Procuring and disposing entities may not be able to realise value for money. The bureau can prosecute officials who break the law.”
She said the bureau also checks adherence to the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets (PPDA) Act of 2017 in the procurement process to ensure transparency, accountability and fairness.
The public procurement law requires that the ACB vets all single-sourcing and high-value contracts and Ndala said the Grandview International contract was not vetted.
Section 37(11) of the PPDA Act provides: “Single source method of procurement or any high-value procurement shall be subject to vetting by the Anti-Corruption Bureau, pursuant to the powers conferred on the bureau under Section 10 of the Corrupt Practices Act.”
The Public Procurement and Disposal of Assets Authority considers any contract above K50 million a high-value deal to be subjected to ACB vetting before a notice of intention to award the same is made.
This is the second time the ACB was evaded in the Toyota Landcruiser ambulances deal. In 2019, Ministry of Health awarded a K4 billion contract to Paramount Holdings to supply 74 ambulances without ACB vetting.
PPDA director general Elias Hausi asked for more time before responding to our question on why ACB was bypassed in the K1.6 billion contract. He was yet to respond as we went to press.
In a separate interview on Tuesday, procurement specialist Amos Nyambo said by bypassing ACB vetting, the contract raises a red flag which should attract interest.
He said while there was no excuse to break the law, some government ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) may not go for vetting because they do not want to be delayed as it may affect value for money.
Nyambo, who is board chairperson of Malawi Institute of Procurement and Supply, said: “I think processes have to be clear. For example, if a contract goes for vetting how long should it take to avoid situations where processes are delayed unnecessarily? This [prescription of timeframe] could indeed motivate more MDAs to go for vetting.”
He also dared PPDA to crack its whip on errant officers who deliberately bypass the procedure. He observed this would deter others from not doing the same.
“The procurement regulations provide for penalties on those who defy the law let it be applied and publicised to send a strong message to others. On our part, we discipline members involved in any procurement malpractices and this helps to promote professionalism” said Nyambo.
The Government Contracting Unit (GCU), which also vets contracts, said the ambulance deal in question had not yet reached a stage where they could come in.
GCU engineering specialist Vincent Sikelo said they are involved at a time an MDA has prepared a contract and their role is to vet technicalities in the contract to maximise value for money.
Like Ndala, he also admitted that some MDAs bypass his office for their own reasons.
Said Sikelo: “We look at risks; hence, we focus more on terms and conditions and we make modifications where necessary to avert wastefulness. In some cases, we have stopped contracts before.
“We encourage MDAs to follow all process including vetting at ACB as well as here so that public procurement is done in the best interest of the people.”
The ACB is currently investigating the Ministry of Health’s contract intention to award to Grandview International following a public outcry. The notice of intention to award the contract indicated that local bidders, including Toyota Malawi and Nissan Malawi, offered low rates.
But in a written response last week, Ministry of Health spokesperson Joshua Malango justified the selection of Grandview International, saying the low-priced local companies “failed due to non-compliance to minimum specifications as indicated in the bid document. These include the requirement that the ambulances should have raised roof, ground clearance and pay load”.
He said Grandview also committed to provide free after-sales service for the ambulances through a local partner he only identified as Avis. He could not state how long the free-service period will take. However, Toyota Malawi provides free service for two years or 50 000 kilometres besides a three-year warranty.