To minimise procurement scandals, Malawi Government has directed that principal secretaries (PSs) and controlling officers should be the only ones chairing internal procurement committees (IPCs) in ministries and departments.
The directive comes amid several reported cases of IPCs engineering tendering processes in favour of certain suppliers of various goods and services to government.
In a circular, signed by Chief Secretary to the Government Bright Msaka, the Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC) says the directive is in line with provisions of the Public Procurement Act which recognises controlling officers as chairpersons for IPCs in government.
Reads the circular: “As you are aware, Section 9 (1) (a) of the Public Procurement Act, while designating a controlling officer of a procurement entity as chair of the entity’s internal procurement committee [IPC], also gives the controlling officer power to appoint another officer to chair the IPC on his [or her] behalf.
“Government has noted with concern that most controlling officers have delegated the chairmanship of their IPCs to other officers and the controlling officers take no interest whatsoever on activities of their IPCs.”
According to the circular, this has defeated controls and safeguards intended under the law.
The directive also says that “in the interest of prudent institutional management, membership of IPCs should rotate among eligible members of staff on a more regular basis.”
Before the December 14 2012 circular, PSs delegated other officers to chair their IPCs, but OPC says as controlling officers, PSs should be accountable for IPC roles and failures. The Office of Director of Public Procurement (ODPP) has since backed the directive, saying: “It is expected to result in a reduction in the number of mis-procurements and procurements made without due regard to the resources available.”
PS responsible for administration in OPC Clement Chinthu-Phiri said in an interview procurement takes about 80 percent of the government budget; hence, controlling officers should be on top of things and account for their expenditure.
However, whereas some PSs have welcomed the move as positive to ensure prudence and accountability, others think this will not give room for appeal in cases where a losing bidder feels short-changed.
PS for Agriculture and Food Security Geoffrey Luhanga said in an interview on Tuesday the directive will ensure “greater accountability by controlling officers”.
But another PS, speaking on condition of anonymity, feared that the move will only pit PSs against authorities who want their wishes to prevail in IPC decisions.
Said the PS: “Look at the issues of Central Medical Stores Trust. How will a controlling officer say no in such cases? In the present situation, junior officers who chair these IPCs have somewhere to report to in such matters.”
The PS was apparently referring to President Joyce Banda’s directive to cancel drug procurement tenders at the Central Medical Stores Trust (CMST) last December.
But Chinthu-Phiri said the law provides for the ODPP as an appeal point.
But the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP) has cautioned against the move and asked the ODPP to come in the open “and explain what has gone wrong that we are seeking to protect.”
Said CCJP national secretary Chris Chisoni: “I am seeing a conflict of interest here because you have people who must approve IPC recommendations now making the decision themselves. This is defeating the oversight role.”