The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of Parliament has called for the firing of Accountant General (AG) Chrighton Chimombo for alleged unprofessional conduct over the procurement of the new Information Financial Integrated Management Systems (Ifmis) software.
But the AG has refused to step down, saying the decision on procurement had the blessings of the Office of the Director of Public Procurement (ODPP).
PAC chairperson Alekeni Menyani told The Nation in Lilongwe that Chimombo ought to be relieved of his duties following his failure to heed advice from the committee and other stakeholders to restart the bidding process in the procurement of the software.
The suggested resumption of the bidding process in the software’s procurement comes after PAC and other stakeholders suspected corruption as they question government’s rationale in settling for a third and more expensive bidder, who was demanding K10.3 billion ($14 million), with a recurring cost of K2.2 billion ($3 million) every three months.
About 12 firms expressed interest in the 2015 bidding process that saw the lowest bidder charging K1.1 billion ($7 million).
But Chimombo has flatly refused to even consider resigning over the matter, stating that the ODPP issued a no-objection to the winning bid after being satisfied with the submission from the Ministry of Finance, Economic Planning and Development.
“The evaluation report was clear on the winning bid and why others failed. The procurement process is following the outcomes of the evaluation of the submitted bids. Those who failed were adequately communicated [to],” he said in a written response to a questionnaire yesterday.
However, Menyani described the move to procure an expensive software and the burden of the recurring costs as fiscal recklessness, adding that the procurement process should be put on hold.
He said: “We are not asking too much when we ask the Accountant General to listen because this is not a decision for just an individual to make. But, instead, he is going behind our backs and spreading rumours that we are trying to derail the procurement.
“What the Accountant General has shown clearly underscores our fears that somewhere, somehow, this process is flawed and because of his failure to ensure that the provider of the software solutions—called ERP, that runs Ifmis—follows the right procedure. The system that is aimed at dealing with fraud cannot be procured fraudulently and if the Accountant General insists on taking this current route, then he has to be fired immediately for being unprofessional and because he is taking the country back to Cashgate.”
Menyani lamented that government officials tend to neglect PAC’s advice and recommendations, including on audit reports.
He said the tendency is regrettable because the committee weighs in on critical national issues because of its responsibility as an oversight organ of Parliament mandated by law.
“In our response to the budget presentation, we questioned the K5 billion allocation in our report [whose issues have not been addressed]. … Ifmis is at the centre of the ill-fated Cashgate and, as Public Accounts Committee, all we are trying to do is ensure that this [looting of public funds] does not happen again,” added Menyani.
He said the Accountant General has been acting suspiciously over the acquisition of a new Ifmis.
Menyani further stated: “You can appreciate the fact that the World Bank has pulled out and even his boss, the Secretary to Treasury, has advised him to restart the whole process because it has taken a while without reaching a conclusion, while the first and second successful bidders have been left out before settling for a third bidder.”
In the 2018/19 fiscal year, government allocated K5 billion for the procurement of the new Ifmis and whose software, according to the Minister of Finance, Economic Planning and Development Goodall Gondwe, is expected to enhance speed and security in processing government financial transactions as well as expenditure tracking and bank reconciliations.
In June this year, the Accountant General failed to convince some stakeholders why government is planning to engage a Zimbabwean firm, Twenty Third Century, to provide software solutions called Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) to operate Ifmis three years after 12 bidders expressed interest.
Secretary to the Treasury Ben Botolo is on record to have told The Nation that the best way to solve the mystery surrounding the procurement of the system was to restart the whole process, particularly since the bidding was done in 2015 and they expect that the prices have gone up.
Human Rights Defenders Coalition chairperson, who is also Centre for Human Rights Rehabilitation executive director Timothy Mtambo, wondered why there are conflicting messages in the Ifmis acquisition and related expenses, especially after Finance Minister Gondwe announced that the government had already procured the software.
He said: “This should be another deliberate effort by this government to steal from us. Why are they running government as a personal estate? One wonders if they are here to serve Malawians or themselves.
“To say the least, this is unfortunate. Actually, PAC is justified; he [the AG] must step down. Actually, he is supposed to be fired right away. We do not want people in government who are always waiting for an opportunity to steal from us.”