- They can’t replace law enforcement agencies—MLS
Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) says it wants to undertake a fresh inquiry into the unaccounted for K236 billion in public funds by probing the involvement of procuring firms.
The procuring entities are reported to have used restricted tender and single source procurement to cover up anomalies between 2009 and December 31 2014.
The development follows last week’s explanation by the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) to the committee that there was no evidence to suspect corruption in the manner five companies, which the bureau cleared, dealt with government.
The ACB cleared the companies based on the Attorney General’s legal opinion which concluded that there were legitimate contracts and that goods were supplied to Malawi Defence Force (MDF), Malawi Police Service (MPS) and Ministry of Education, Science and Technology.
But PAC leadership told The Nation yesterday that the clearance of the companies left a lot of unanswered questions, particularly relating to procurement.
The forensic audit covering the period 2009 to 2014 found that five family-owned companies were winning contracts through restricted tender and single source procurement to supply items that did not match the needs of government agencies.
The audit found such tendering and procurement processes prevalent in MPS and MDF, whose procurements were deemed sensitive.
Yesterday, PAC chairperson Alekeni Menyani said such findings were the reason Parliament wanted to institute a separate probe targeting civil servants and internal procurement committees (IPCs) that caused the loss of billions to the government through misprocurement and accepting highest bids without due diligence.
He said the committee wants to probe allegations that officials connived with the companies to accept the highest bids in exchange for cuts from the deal.
Said Menyani: “We appreciate the work that the ACB did in investigating these companies and we understand when they say they did not find evidence of corruption. But the fact remains that procurement officers opted for goods and services that were more expensive.
“There has to be an explanation and we want to zero in on these officials that did procurement and they should demonstrate that there was due diligence and value for money in accepting those bids.”
He also said although the procuring entities could not go for the cheapest bidders, due diligence had to be followed.
Menyani said the committee was not satisfied with ACB’s findings because the skeleton summary clearing the companies did not provide information on procurement procedures.
Meanwhile, PAC vice-chairperson Kamlepo Kalua has said he wants the probe to be more sophisticated than the recent investigation into the Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation (Admarc) procurement of maize from Zambia.
He said: “From that audit, it is clear the companies contracted banked the money elsewhere and this requires conducting an audit trail both here and abroad. Who floated the tenders, why single sourcing?
“We need to trace the officials, the minister responsible and composition of the IPCs. We need to know how payments were made to understand why the audit found anomalies in the first place.”
But for PAC to conduct an inquiry of such a magnitude, it would require additional funding from the Parliament secretariat.
However, funding in the 2016/17 financial year catered for two meetings per committee and any additional funding was being sourced from donors.
Kalua said a minimum K10 million was required to start the probe but the committee would request the secretariat to seek additional funding from Treasury.
The names of the companies ACB cleared of involvement in corruption and fraud are Malachite FZE, Rummage Pace, Top Prima Limited, Chicago Suppliers and Xelite Strip Ltd.
Meanwhile, Malawi Law Society (MLS) has said while Parliament, through its committees, plays a key role in providing checks and balances to the other organs of government, they could not replace law enforcement agencies such as ACB or police.
In an interview yesterday, MLS president Khumbo Soko said: “The problem we have had in this country is that law enforcement agencies are not truly independent in their operations such that one never has the assurance that our sleuths follow the trail of evidence to where it leads them.
“It is important, therefore, for Parliament to also invest in correcting this structural deficiency so that in future there won’t be a need for them step in and do work best suited for police detectives.”
Parliament spokesperson Leonard Mengezi said the National Assembly did not receive additional funding in the Mid-year Budget Review to cater for extra meetings of its committees.