Glaring inconsistencies in information the Office of the Director of Public Procurement (ODPP) provided to members of Parliament (MPs) investigating the Malawi-Zambia maize deal left the legislators angry and suspicious of the whole transaction.
The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) and the Parliamentary Committee on Agriculture yesterday summoned director of public procurement Paul Taulo to appear before it at Parliament Building, Lilongwe, to explain the role his office played in the maize transaction.
Taulo said he was three days in office by June 17 2016 when Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation (Admarc) chief executive officer (CEO) Foster Mulumbe called him to issue a No Objection certificate.
“I was in Neno in my village at this time and we thank God the network did not fail us,” he submitted.
Taulo disclosed that the Admarc CEO told him that they [Admarc] had sourced maize from Zambia and they were in need of advisory services from the ODPP.
“And because of the emergency nature of the transaction, the documents were e-mailed to my office where an assistant director Mr. AMJ Chirwa processed the No Objection certificate,” he explained.
“This was a procurement that mattered most,” he justified.
But this did not please MP for Dowa West Alexander Kusamba Dzonzi who pressed Taulo to explain what his role was in the whole procurement process.
Dzonzi said it was unthinkable for the director to delegate his authority on the basis of being new in office.
“Probably, there is something you know that you are trying to hide from this committee,” concluded the MP.
Karonga Central legislator Frank Mwenifumbo sought clarification on whether government had now changed rules on government procurement.
“If you are saying this procurement mattered most or that it was an emergency procurement, are you telling this committee that there is procurement that is less serious and requires less attention in government circles?” quizzed Mwenifumbo.
When Dowa East MP Richard Chimwendo-Banda (Malawi Congress Party-MCP) asked Taulo to explain whether he was physically present when the No Objection certificate was issued, the ODPP replied: “Yes, I was”.
But when reminded that he had just told the committee that he was in the village and that June 17 2016 was a Friday, the ODPP turned around, saying: “I was not physically present. I was only dealing with them through phone calls.”
The inconsistency prompted PAC vice-chairperson Kamlepo Kalua to remind Taulo that he was under oath to tell the nation the truth regarding what transpired in the maize deal.
“Did you make any attempt to physically visit Admarc to ascertain whether Admarc was indeed doing what you were discussing over the phone? How do we trust you when you are failing to come out clear even on the documents you presented to this committee?” quizzed Kalua.
Chitipa North MP James Munthali (People’s Party-PP) also wondered whether it was normal for the ODPP to be discussing procurement issues with heads of institutions on the phone.
The MPs also wondered why there were discrepancies in the dates the request for No Objection was made and the date Admarc internal procurement committee (IPC) resolved to make this request.
From the documents presented to the committee, the No Objection was issued two days after submission of IPC meeting minutes. In a normal circumstance, the rules minutes, which were supposed to originate from the IPC, were supposed to precede the request for the No Objection certificate.
These discrepancies prompted the committee chairperson Joseph Chidanti Malunga to suspend the hearing prematurely.
Malunga also ordered Taulo to bring Chirwa and other officials that were involved in the whole process at ODPP. n