Details have emerged that the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) last June cleared a contract between Malawi Police Service and businessperson Zuneth Sattar’s firm worth $7 875 000 which is subject of an investigation.
Documentation The Nation has reviewed show that on June 29 2021, through a letter reference number ACB/CPD/73/21 signed by ACB acting chief corruption prevention officer Susan Mtuwa Phiri, the bureau cleared the award of the contract between Malawi Police and Xaviar Limited for the supply and delivery of dry rations and uniforms worth $7.8 million after being satisfied with the information provided.
Reads the letter from ACB to the director general of Public Procurement and Disposal of Assets Authority (PPDA): “With the information that you have provided which we did not have in the early submission, I wish to inform you that we have reviewed the submission again considering the new information from Malawi Police Service.
“In accordance with Section 37(11) of the Public Procurement and Disposal of Assets Act, I hereby write to grant ‘No Objection’ for the Malawi Police Service to award the contracts to Xaviar Ltd at a sum of $7 875 000 and to various supplies for the procurement of uniform items.”
The approval came after ACB had earlier withheld its clearance to PPDA due to lack of information.
The correspondence shows that on June 3 2021, the PPDA wrote ACB requesting for a ‘no objection’ for the contracts.
After the required information was provided, the ACB finally cleared the contracts which were frozen last year as part of investigations against Sattar who is alleged to have bribed public officers to influence award of contracts.
Section 37 of the Public Procurement and Disposal of Assets Act (2017) mandates the ACB to vet all high value and single sourced contracts. The aim is to deal with corruption in public procurement.
Reacting to the developments, governance commentator Willy Kambwandira yesterday said the situation puts into question the bureau’s vetting process.
He said: “This is very unfortunate. The revelations call for strengthening and tightening of the vetting process for huge contracts at the bureau. It is our proposal that the vetting process is done by a panel of experts. It also calls for development of beneficial ownership register to know owners of the companies.”
But ACB principal public relations officer Egrita Ndala said the clearance was based on information submitted at that particular time.
She said: “The bureau vetted the contract and at that time found that the information that was provided was satisfactory and gave a ‘no objection’.
“However, the bureau is aware that some contrary information may come after the go ahead is granted. That is why at the end of the letter, the last paragraph has a disclaimer.”
The disclaimer indicated that should the bureau come across some information to the contrary, it would subject the contract to further investigation.
Ndala, however, said the bureau has now improved on its vetting process.
She said: “Previously, the process was done by one or two people, but the bureau has constituted a committee comprising legal, investigations and corruption prevention officers to ensure that there is thorough scrutiny before a no objection is granted.”
A source from the bureau also hinted that the inclusion of investigators as part of the committee to vet contracts is likely to improve matters.